THIEVES who stole copper electricity cables from autoroutes in the Ile-de-France have inadvertently sparked a new road safety campaign as it has been found unlit motorways lead to fewer accidents because drivers drive slower and with more care.
Now the lights are going off on the approaches to large cities after roads officials in Ile-de-France told Le Figarothat accidents had been reduced by 30%.
Direction Interdépartementale des Routes d'Ile-de-France director David Zambon said continuing thefts meant they had been able to do a three-year test on the A15 in Hauts-de-Seine and Val-d'Oise. The cut in accidents over the 115km of four-lane autoroute was immediately obvious - as was a €3 million reduction in power and maintenance costs. He said they were also able to calculate that CO2 emissions had been cut by 45%.
Similar tests on the A16 in the north-east - running via Beauvais to Dunkirk - showed accidents were less severe in the unlit zones than in lighted zones near urban areas.
Now roads research body Centre d'Etudes sur les Réseaux, Transports, Urbanisme et Constructions Publiques has been asked to come up with official recommendations by the end of the year.
However, autoroute companies are jumping the gun by extending the tests with sectors of the A1, A22 and A27 round Lille being left unlit, except for interchanges. In the south, Escota is testing an unlit section of the A8 between Nice and Villeneuve-Loubet.
This move has been attacked by an MP who doubts the value of the move and his doubts are shared by the Association Française de l'Eclairage which points to studies showing that vision in lit areas of motorways stretches to 300m, while on unlit sectors drivers can see only 40m ahead and cannot anticipate any dangers.
AFE lighting specialist Christian Remande said the real reason for the autoroute companies' switch-off was financial.
Escota agreed, saying that by the end of this winter they would have cut costs by 20% - but added that accidents on the unlit zones of the A8 had not risen at all.
Meanwhile, a militant ecologist who attempted to bring his own brand of darkness to the newly-opened A65 Bordeaux-Pau motorway in Gironde has been fined €1,000 in Bordeaux for setting smoking fires alongside the road.