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Doubt over French PM claim that 80kph saved 116 lives

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has claimed that 116 lives have been saved on the roads since the introduction of the 80 kph speed limit in July 2018; but that figure has already been questioned.

Mr Philippe made the claim this week. The 116 number was calculated by comparing the number of road deaths from the second half of 2018, compared to the average from 2013-2017.

The PM said that 3,259 people had died in urban areas across the 80 kph network in 2018, and called the number “historically” low and "exceptional."

He added his voice to road safety agency l’Observatoire National Interministériel de la Sécurité Routière (ONISR), which said that 2018 had been “the least deadly in the history of road safety”.

This is the first suggestion that the government believes that the 80 kph speed limit is saving lives.

Mr Philippe and President Emmanuel Macron have both previously said that if the controversial lower speed limit does not appear to be saving lives on the roads concerned after two years, then the limit could be put back up to the previous 90 kph.

However, commentators have questioned Mr Philippe’s recent numbers, as they say that the number of accidents refers to all roads, and not only those under the new speed limit.

In Brittany, for example, many rural dual carriageways still have a speed limit of 110 kph.

Similarly, some reports suggest that it is too early to draw such a definite conclusion.

Yet, the government has defended its calculations, saying that the number of deaths on other roads has been constant throughout, meaning that the number of lives saved actually does point to the new 80 kph speed limit.

Emmanuel Barbe, cross-party road safety delegate, said: “We are talking about guesswork, but it is eloquent enough to be calculated with precision.”

More calculations are expected in the next six months, with a full year-on-year comparison also expected to be taken before July this year (the one-year anniversary of the new measure).

According to reports by Le Monde newspaper, the true figures of the numbers of deaths on the roads for 2018 will only be available from January 31 at the earliest, as they usually take into account people who may die from road accident injuries up to 30 days after the crash.

The same report concluded that it was “too early to conclude on the 80 kph speed limit”.

Manuelle Salathé, general secretary of the ONISR, said that the country would need “at least 12 months of observation, and ideally 24 months, to avoid the effects due to [unusually bad] weather” before drawing any definite conclusions.

Bad weather, and other factors such as a high number of speed cameras being damaged in the latter half of 2018, and the effect of the gilets jaunes road protests, may also play a role in ascertaining the real impact of the speed limit drop, Ms Salathé said.

Figures from the ONISR suggest that effective road safety measures can only usually be seen from the perspective of many years.

For example, significant drops in road accident deaths can be pinpointed especially to measures such as mandatory seat-belts (1973; 15,469 deaths); anti-alcohol campaigns (1983, 11,677 deaths); a 50 kph limit in town centres (1990; 10,289 deaths); and speed cameras (2002, 7,242 deaths).

Graph figures:  Le Monde / Sécurité Routière

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