Private speed radar cars are spreading across France since their introduction in 2018 – with around 450 now operating – as police and gendarmerie outsource speed checks to focus on more serious issues such as drink and drug driving. We answer key questions about how the cars function.
How do these cars work?
The radar cars are able to flash a vehicle while driving themselves. They usually drive for six hours a day, issuing around two tickets per hour.
They are discreet, look like normal cars, are of a variety of vehicle models, and do not have their speed monitoring equipment immediately visible. They are operated by private companies.
Are their routes fixed?
Yes. The driver follows a route pre-recorded in the GPS by the Interior Ministry. The system automatically adapts to the speed limit in force.
Neither the company nor the employee driver can change the routes they take.
Are they found in all parts of France?
They are currently in eight regions: Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Centre-Val de Loire, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Grand-Est, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Hauts-de-France but the plan is for them to be rolled out to all regions of France by the end of next year.
How effective are they in improving road safety?
The first private radar cars were introduced in 2018. In that year, there were 58,300 road accidents, 3,500 of which were fatal.
Three years later, by 2021, that figure had dropped to 53,600 accidents and 2,900 deaths; a reduction of almost 5,000 accidents and 600 deaths per year.
However, there is no incontrovertible evidence that these reductions were due to speed camera or radar checks alone, especially bearing in mind this time frame included periods of confinement due to Covid.
Do these vehicles make money for the state?
Yes, but there are limits to how much they can make. According to the drivers' association the Ligue de défense des conducteurs, each of these vehicles brings in €194,000 per year for the state.
However, the private companies are not themselves paid by the number of fines they bring in, but by the number of kilometres travelled, which are set, no matter how many fines they issue. If they travel too many kilometres, they are punished financially.
In 2021, there were €760million worth of fines for high-speed offences. A total of 10% of these fines were issued by vehicle speed cameras (which themselves make up 10% of the speed cameras currently in operation in France).
Do they collect data on cars or drivers?
Yes, but only if the vehicle is flashed, to issue the fine. Neither the driver nor the company operator has access to the data, which is encrypted and sent securely to the Centre National de Traitement des Infractions in Rennes.
They also do not know if a user has been flashed, or how many infractions have been recorded.
The flash is infrared and invisible to the naked eye, and the computer on board does not issue a sound or notification when a flash happens.
What is their ‘technical margin’ of speed?
They are designed to target drivers responsible for significant speeding, so their margin is 10 km/h for speed limits below 100 km/h, and 10% for speed limits above 100 km/h (compared to 5 km/h and 5% for other speed control cameras).
So for example, vehicles travelling at 146 km/h on a motorway, 124 km/h on an expressway or 61 km/h in built-up areas would be flashed.
Do drivers with UK number plates receive fines at their homes post-Brexit?
Drivers with UK number plates will not receive fines issued by speed cameras at their UK homes, as previously, as the exchange between Britain and France of this sort of information came under an EU directive and ended with Brexit.
Do speed camera cars deliberately drive slowly to push drivers to go faster and speed?
Some social media users suggested this on France 3’s Facebook page, but this has been debunked as a myth. Every radar car driver is required, according to their employment contract, to drive at a normal speed.
If they do not respect this rule, they are liable to a penalty of €1,000.
Where are the cars parked at night?
Despite being driven by private employees, the cars remain the property of the state. At night, they are parked in police or gendarmerie car parks.
How can you recognise them?
They are not marked. And while they do look similar to normal cars, they do have an “eye” camera to the rear, which looks like a black square. They also have two small cameras that are visible through the back windscreen, unless the rear window is tinted. At night, the infrared detector can be seen via a series of small red LEDs.
There is also a large black box placed on the dashboard at the front, which contains a camera and a tablet for the driver.
What models of car are currently being used as radar vehicles?
Currently, the main known models of radar cars are: Citroën Berlingo, Dacia Sandero, Ford Focus, Peugeot 208, 308, 508 and Partner, Renault Megane, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Passat and Golf.
Read more: How to spot unmarked speed control cars on French roads
They are registered as ordinary cars. However, several websites do have a list of their specific number plates.
More French regions use private unmarked speed camera cars
450 unmarked radar cars on French roads by end of 2021