France's 80kph speed limit saved 349 lives – official report

Lowering the national speed limit to 80kph from 90kph from June 2018 outside motorways and dual-carriageways saved 349 lives according to the government commission set up to examine the change.

22 July 2020
By Brian McCulloch

The calculation looked at 20 months from the measure's introduction in June 2018, deliberately not including the recent lockdown period.

The prime minister at the time the measure came in, Edouard Philippe, set up the commission to study the measure over two years, after it provoked a wave of hostility in the country, especially from rural areas.

It is widely seen as being one of the factors that crystallized the gilet jaune protests which bought the country to a halt in late 2018 and continued every weekend into early 2019.

Speaking in a radio interview after the panel of experts set up to evaluate the measure gave its final report, Marie Gautier-Melleray, an official in charge of co-ordinating road safety strategy, said the government was determined that the 80kph measure should stay in place on single-lane roads.

Some departments have gone back to 90kph

Even so, departmental councils were given the right to raise the limit, at their discretion, and this has now been done in some parts of France.

A spokesman from the Interior Ministry's road safety section told The Connexion that there were no plans to reverse the decision to allow departments to raise the speed limit back to 90kph if they wanted too.

“What is noticeable though is that since December 2019, when the measures allowing a return came into force, very few departements have raised the limits. Only 15,000km of roads in France are now at 90kph,” he said.

The report, which looked at statistics over 20 months and not 24 as originally planned to avoid the distortion of the lockdown months, said 349 fewer people died from road accidents due to the 80kph limit.

Average speed of light vehicles on roads without a central barrier dropped from 87kph before the reduction to 83kph after it.

It also found that before the measures were introduced, 44% of men and 36% of women were strongly against it, while in June this year only 25% of men and 13% of women were.

Using data from Google Maps, it said that the 80kph measure added on average one second per kilometre to most trips in rural areas. The perception of drivers was that on a 50km journey it added two minutes, though it was actually only 50 seconds.

In 19% of cases, the report stated, travelling at 80kph actually improved journey times because traffic was more fluid than before.

Drivers' association remains opposed to measure

The measure is still strongly opposed by the association 40 millions d’automobilistes, which defends drivers rights.

“The perverse effects of 80kph are numerous,” its leader Pierre Chasseray said in a statement, predicting that more departments will return to 90kph.

“Since this measure has been put in place we have seen a return to many dangerous and accident-causing practises on the roads, such as overtaking on blind rises and corners, people on the telephone, or even people travelling much faster than the speed limit. 

“It is a consequence of people paying less attention and others getting angry at having to follow slower vehicles and taking more risks to overtake.”

He said that most people he spoke to saw the measure as a punishment and a restriction on their freedom of movement, exacerbated by excessive fines for small infringements of the speed limit.

The association has published a booklet Raconte-moi-ton 80; les résulats, detailing its members responses to the measure.

Read more about road safety and the 80kph limit

90kph limit back in parts of France

Road death toll halved during lockdown

Road deaths at historic low in 2019

Road deaths up 10% in January

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