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No place for motorists to hide in driving law crackdown

Authorities across France turning to high-tech methods to crack down on speeding, illegal parking, jumping red lights and uninsured drivers

POLICE and councils are using new technology to stamp down on speeding, parking, jumping red lights and driving without insurance.

It is not just in cities where mayors are using hi-tech sensors, video cameras and numberplate recognition. Smaller communes are also investing in cameras in the hope they will recoup the costs when they are allowed to collect fines directly from 2018.

Most drivers know about the car-mounted speed cameras that can flash speeding cars travelling in either direction but these – and others – may soon be linked to a database to detect drivers driving without insurance.

With 6% of fatal road accidents involving uninsured drivers, Prime Minister Manuel Valls wants the technology to take action against the 750,000 uninsured vehicles.

He pushed for a law going before the National Assembly this month to create an insurance database to be linked to police cars fitted with numberplate recognition.

Uninsured drivers face a €3,750 fine and the vehicle may be confiscated. Elsewhere, communes are: 

  • Fitting electronic sensors in parking spaces to alert police if drivers over-stay their time
  • Using cameras at blackspot junctions to spot and fine drivers who do not stop
  • Fitting cameras to police vehicles so officers can document and fine parking violations as they drive past. 

The government also wants to privatise the unmarked speed camera cars that last year flashed 1.5million times – and increase their number from 319 to 440 in a bid to slow down the speeding motorists it blames for many of the 3,464 deaths on the roads last year.

However, plans to change the parking fine system – by decriminalising the offences and allowing local councils to set their own fine levels from October this year – have been delayed until at least 2018. It is a blow for communes keen on the potential revenue but also to get traffic moving.

Parking fines are set at €17 across the country but many councils and drivers see it as little deterrent. In Paris only 10% of drivers bother paying the €4/hour parking fee as they see little risk of facing a €17 parking fine. Paris had hoped to increase the fine to at least €40.

Once the new system does come into force in 2018, communes will have to change their parking meters with the cost paid by local taxes plus the increased parking fines.

Pierre Chasseray, of drivers’ group 40 Millions d’Automobilistes, said the use of ‘video cameras shows they have not solved the root problem’.

“People park in the wrong places because there is not enough parking,” he said.

“Using numberplate recognition is a catastrophe. It is just a way to hand the job to private companies – and means the government and mairies are only interested in money.”

Many mayors want to do both: free up parking while also raising income through fines.

In Vic-en-Bigorre in Haute-Pyrénées, newly-renamed “free shared parking” spaces are fitted with electronic sensors to tell officers by smartphone if a vehicle is parked for too long.

In Yerres, Essonne, the mairie set up a camera and automatic numberplate recognition system at a junction where vehicles ignoring the Stop sign caused numerous accidents.

On its first day it spotted 500 violations – with each facing a €135 fine – and cities such as Marseille are interested, especially for pedestrian crossings.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, some police cars have been fitted with cameras and numberplate recognition so illegally parked vehicles can be reported. Police say they can issue 10 times the number of tickets as officers on foot – up to 15,000 in March.

Police drive through the city snapping vehicles on yellow lines, cycle paths, pedestrian crossings with no need to stop as an electronic traffic ticket is automatically sent to the owner’s address.

Unsurprisingly, other councils are keen on the technology as fines can bring in €35 for double parking or €135 for parking on a pedestrian crossing – while also forcing drivers to change their habits.

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