[Article updated August 9 at 14:10 to include comments from Pontoise resident]
France’s interior minister has announced that stricter penalties will be introduced for people who ride motorbikes or quad bikes in an illegal and dangerous manner on public roads.
Gérald Darmanin has said that people engaging in “rodéos urbains” (racing or practising motorbike tricks on public roads not fit for this type of activity) are carrying out “criminal acts” and “thinking they own the road”.
Races, wheelies and other bike stunts not only create noise pollution, but also pose a threat to other people trying to use the street.
On Friday (August 5), a 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy were seriously injured when they were hit by racing bikes in Pontoise (Val d’Oise) while playing outside.
The 18-year-old motorbike rider initially fled the scene, but was later taken into custody and admitted his part in the accident.
The girl had to be put in a medically induced coma after an operation to treat her head injuries, her mother told BFMTV.
“If I were handing out the punishment, it would be 20 years in prison. That would make him think about [what he has done]. She is a little girl; she is very brave. I want her to come home,” she said.
At the beginning of June, a 19-year-old man died after being hit by another rodéo urbain in Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine).
“The government takes a very tough stance on [...] these often criminal acts which kill, which seriously injure women and children,” Mr Darmanin said during a visit to Marseille.
“I want there to be 10,000 patrol operations [taking place] across the country” before the end of August.
He added that there have been 8,000 such operations over the last two months, resulting in 1,200 interventions and arrests and 700 bikes, quad bikes and cars being seized.
A 2018 law regarding rodéos urbains states that crimes related to the practice can be punished by up to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.
However, Parliament “hopes to reinforce this legislative arsenal and make it easier to condemn” the perpetrators of such crimes.
Mr Darmanin added that he was “in favour of increasing the penal measures” available. He did not add further details of the sentences he would like to see imposed.
In response to Mr Darmanin's announcement, a resident of Pontoise, where the latest motorbike racing accident occurred, commented: "This is a good thing, but it is sad that we had to wait for tragedies to happen before action is taken.
"This is not the first time. Everyone knows that residents are not fully safe."
Police intervention complicated
It is currently very difficult for police officers to arrest individuals who are caught carrying out a rodéo urbain.
It is not possible for the police to chase bikers in the middle of a ride.
Such an intervention would risk creating even more danger on the roads and potentially cause additional injuries, and police officers are automatically liable if the driver falls, said Frank Lebas from the police union Unité SGP Police.
It's "extremely difficult to manage", admitted Yann Bastière, national delegate for the SGP-police unit investigation, on BFMTV.