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First French department confirms return to 90kph limit

The Haute-Marne in eastern France has become the first department to officially change back to a 90kph speed limit on departmental roads, 18 months after the government first imposed a drop to 80kph.

The change will initially apply to 200km of departmental road, president of the departmental council Nicolas Lacroix said, before being rolled out to cover 476km in total across the entire department.

New signs have been put up, alongside further warnings to drivers reading: “For your safety, respect the speed limit” (“Pour votre sécurité, respectez la vitesse”). The change will cost €100,000, Mr Lacroix said.

Mr Lacroix said: “This investment will last a long time, and is not much compared to our entire road budget, much of which is dedicated to maintaining the roads.”

The council made the decision to revert to the higher limit without waiting for advice from the departmental road safety commission, but Mr Lacroix said that he had submitted the necessary accident reports for the roads in question before making the change.

The decision has been criticised for being “populist”, in a department that had a particularly active gilets jaunes movement.

But Mr Lacroix defended the move. He said: “Here, your car is your life. If you lose your licence, you risk losing your job [too]. In this department, we did not see an improvement in accident rates since the drop to 80kph.”

The speed limit for departmental roads was compulsorily dropped across the country in July 2018 after the government said the new limit would lead to a significant reduction in road deaths per year.

But after much controversy and backlash, with critics saying that the change would not make roads safer, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe responded by saying that local authorities would be free to set their own limits, including reverting back to 90kph if they wished.

Haute-Marne was one of the first departments to announce that it would revert to 90kph earlier this year. It was joined by a number of other departments confirming their intention to change back, including Côte-d'Or, Moselle, and Corrèze.

But seven departments have already made it clear that they will be staying at the 80kph limit: Meurthe-et-Moselle, Loire-Atlantique, Rhône, Ardèche, Gard, Var and Ardennes.

And back in August 2019, council president of Ille-et-Vilaine Jean-Luc Chenut, warned that the differences could be confusing. He said: “We should keep a national standard. If one department is 80 kph and the neighbouring [department] is at 90 kph, this will quickly become unmanageable."

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