THE NUMBER of people killed on French roads last month fell to its lowest July level since records began 55 years ago.
Some 358 people died in road accidents last month, down 21% on the same period last year, when 453 deaths were recorded. It is the lowest July figure since statistics were first compiled in 1956.
July is typically a deadly month on the French road network because of the holiday getaway, but the poor weather this year prompted many holidaymakers to cancel or cut short their trips.
Road safety body Sécurité Routière said the figures showed that people were more vigilant, after a particularly bad spell at the start of the year when accidents and deaths were significantly up on the previous year.
The total number of road deaths since the start of this year stands at 2,274. President Sarkozy has said in the past that he wants the full-year figure to be below 3,000. Last year's total was 3,994.
Traffic conditions have worsened in the past week, as July holidaymakers return home and August ones set off.
Road watchdog Bison Futé has issued an "orange" alert for Friday, predicting up to 350km of jams. Saturday should be avoided - there is a "black" alert in place, meaning more than 600km of queuing traffic is likely.
Sunday is the best day to travel, although an "orange" alert remains in place for the south-east corner of the country, around the popular Mediterranean seaside resorts.