A decision to change the 80km/h speed limit to 90km/h on departmental roads in Orne (Normandy) has been judged to be illegal by an administrative court in Caen, but this will not necessarily mean that the limit changes.
In 2018, the French government decided to reduce the limit from 90km/h to 80km/h over 400,000km of roads without a central reservation – mostly routes départementales – in an attempt to reduce the incidence rate of fatal car accidents.
However, this provoked significant opposition, and in 2019 departments were given the power to return to 90km/h if they wished, and almost half have done so, at least on a proportion of their roads.
Orne’s prefecture chose to move the speed limit on 2,046km of its roads from 80km/h to 90km/h in June 2020. Across the rest of its road network, it announced that “80km/h [...] will be maintained considering that users naturally drive at lower speeds because of the nature of the terrain.”
The Caen court judged last week that the move to 90km/h was not sufficiently justified, ruling that the department should have analysed accident data for each of the affected roads before making the decision.
“The higher the speed, the more accidents there are. The facts are there. All the studies prove it,” said Philippe Vayssette of the Ligue contre la violence routière road safety association, which was the organisation that took the case to court.
“The court believes that there was a lack of justification, but that is normal; there is never a good justification for increasing a speed limit.”
The Ligue contre la violence routière has also launched legal action over the decision to return to a 90km/h speed limit in Calvados. The court is expected to hand down a similar decision with regards to this department in the coming days.
90km/h speed limit will not necessarily change
Although the Caen court has judged that the move to a 90km/h limit was illegal, this does not mean that it will definitely go back to 80km/h.
The decrees applying a return to the higher speed limit will be repealed on February 1, 2023, leaving a window in which “the president of the department of Orne may issue – if he wishes – new decrees to keep the limit at 90km/h and to not penalise road users” who drive at this speed.
It was considered that an immediate reversion to 80km/h would “oblige the department to take down all the 90km/h speed limit signs,” which would “negatively impact the interests of Orne and its drivers to an excessive degree.”
Mr Vayssette has claimed that this is “a miscarriage of justice”.
“We will see how we can overcome this, because increasing the speed limit means making roads more dangerous, increasing fuel consumption and pollution. It’s a strange message to be sending out.”
In the documents that it presented to the Caen court, the Ligue contre la violence routière stated that: “Orne is one of the only departments to have seen a rise in the number of road deaths per million inhabitants between 2010 and 2019.”
The department argues that “a return to 90km/h will aim to fight against the extended journey times having a negative impact on the economy,” but the Ligue estimates that driving at 90km/h rather than 80km/h saves a second per kilometre.