The number of fixed roadside cameras means the chances of getting caught speeding in France are already high, but the new fleet of voitures radar means the number of speeding fines is set to rocket.
A few dozen of the privately operated speed radar cars were tested in Normandy in 2018 and the scheme was later extended to three more regions.
Their numbers have shot up this year, with 420 deployed and a total of 450 due to be in action by the end of the year in eight of the country’s 13 regions, according to road safety authority Sécurité Routière.
The increase comes after the government put out tenders worth tens of millions of euros, calling for private firms to step in as a way of reducing costs to the state and freeing gendarmes for other work.
The radar cars – often popular vehicles such as VW Golfs or Peugeots – are difficult to spot, and will travel the nation’s roads 24 hours a day.
All their drivers have to do is sit back and drive a fixed route for the duration of their shift, while cameras at the front and back of the car snap the registration number of cars breaching speed limits. Images are automatically transmitted to a police control centre.
The Ligue de Défense des Conducteurs, a motorists’ lobby group which sees the proliferation of speed cameras as a “repressive” act by the state which it says is more interested in making money from fines than in road safety, is angry at the roll-out of the radar cars.
The Ligue’s Alexandra Legendre asked: “How can it help save lives if you send out vehicles driven by people who have no road safety brief and who are not allowed to intervene if they come across someone visibly under the influence of alcohol, or who is travelling way beyond the speed limit?”
Sécurité Routière said 876,990 speeding fines were issued by radar cars in 2019, including those run by private firms and the ones driven by gendarmes. It did not have figures for 2020. No official estimates have been made public about how many fines will be issued by the new fleets of private radar cars this year, but the Ligue de Défense des Conducteurs says the numbers will “shoot up”.
The 2021 state budget expects income of €801million from the entire camera network. Last year, 2,550 people died in road accidents in France. Officials say excessive speed is responsible for one road death in three.
Sécurité Routière insists private companies are not working on a commission basis that would incite them to catch as many drivers as possible.
Drivers with British numberplates 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.
For those hoping to avoid fines by spotting the unmarked radar cars, websites such as radarprive.fr claim to help.
It lists radar cars used in each department, providing a photo of cars – including licence plates.