The government’s decision to reduce the speed limit from 90 kph to 80 kph on certain secondary roads was strongly contested even before it came into force in July 2018, and has been blamed as one of the factors contributing to the gilets jaunes crisis.
The government said the measure would save hundreds of lives on the roads - a claim disputed by critics - but always maintained that the success of the decision would be re-evaluated at a future stage.
This week, on June 6, the Assemblée Nationale voted in favour of potentially allowing local Mayors to change the speed limit on 80 kph roads themselves, if they wish.
And in mid-May, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, credited as the creator of the initial 80 kph law, said: “If departmental council presidents want to take [the measure] under their responsibility, I see no issues.”
Following the vote, critics of the speed change continued to attack it, calling it “stupid”, “a symbol of a two-speed France”, and “one of the causes of the long weeks of crisis”.
Yet, transport minister Elisabeth Borne continued to defend the measure. She said: “This is about saving lives. In the second half of 2018, we saw 127 lives saved thanks to the decision on 80 kph.”
She added: “We want to trust ministers [and mayors], but local authorities cannot deviate from the decisions of the Prime Minister.”
Road authority la Sécurité Routière has said that excessive speed is the number one cause of road deaths in France.
In January, this year, Mr Philippe claimed that 116 lives had already been saved due to the lower speed limit, but that number was quickly called into question by critics.
A rise in road deaths across the country was reported in February, although this was blamed on damage to speed cameras between 2018 and 2019, which cost the State an estimated €660 million.
Critics said the rise in deaths showed that “80 kph did not work”, but road safety expert, Anne Lavaud, from the association Prévention Routière, said it was still too soon to tell.
She said: “As a minimum, we would need this measure to be in place for 2-5 years to show its effectiveness. [We may even need] a generation so that things are understood, and [speed limits are] not seen as a punishment or a limit on freedom.”
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