The first department has rejected the controversial 80kph speed limit on single-carriageway roads and returned to the old 90kph national limit.
New signs have been fitted to cover some 200km of roads in Haute-Marne in a €100,000 scheme that will, in a few weeks, comprise 476km.
Fifteen roads are concerned and 300 panels will be installed, with most accompanied by a sign saying: Pour votre sécurité, respectez la vitesse (for your safety, respect the speed limit).
Nicolas Lacroix, president of the Haute-Marne council, said: “There was no consultation before the government brought in the 80kph limit and it was very badly received here.
“This is a rural department and there is little public transport outside of towns. Cars are our life. Lose your licence and you could lose your job.”
Asked if he was giving in to gilet jaune protests, which have strong roots in the north-east France area, he said: “We have done in-depth checks and not seen any fall in accidents since it was brought in.”
The Macron government was forced into a rethink on the speed limit reduction, introduced in July 2018, when the gilet jaune protest spread across France. Rural areas led the way because of the impact on their daily lives of the change, along with rising fuel taxes.
Other departments are also looking at reintroducing the old limit, with Seine-et-Marne and Côte d’Or being the latest to declare such plans. In all, about 40 are expected to do so.
Seine-et-Marne President Patrick Septiers said the limit had penalised road-users, especially as there is little public transport.
“Lowering the speed to 80kph has not worked.”
He said they had done an in-depth assessment and the 90kph limit would return on 490km of roads by the end of March, at a cost of €500,000.
Seven departments will, however, certainly stay at 80kph.
Meurthe-et-Moselle, Loire-Atlantique, Rhône, Ardèche, Gard, Var and Ardennes say they have no plans to change.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said: “The day when we see that on roads where they increased the speed limit there is a higher death toll, then everyone will have to look at themselves in the mirror.”
His government said the 80kph speed limit would lead to a large fall in the number of accidental deaths on roads without a central barrier.
However, despite a fall in the final six months of 2018, the figures for the year to August 2019 showed a slight rise.
Mayor tries a funny way to slow drivers
A mayor has turned to dark humour to get motorists to slow down after clocking some at 110kph in a 30kph zone.
Marc Guillez ,of Montrécourt (population 224) in the Nord, says some drivers have slowed a little since he installed images such as the Grim Reaper warning “speed up - he’s waiting for you at the end of the road” or a grandmother holding a big gun, saying “slow down, or the mayor will get angry”.