Campaign to reduce speed limit to 30 km/h in all French towns

A road association says the limit would have a positive impact on safety, noise, and air pollution

Proponents say the lower limit would improve safety and pollution, but critics believe it would simply frustrate drivers

Towns in France could soon have a maximum speed of 30 km/h after a road safety association launched a petition calling for the measure.

The association Prévention routière (PR) launched the online petition on May 23. It calls for the speed limit to be rolled out across all towns in the country. 

At the time of writing, the petition has reached 1,698 signatures, 43% of its stated aim of 4,000.

Currently, a 30 km/h limit - down from the previous limit of 50 km/h - is in force in around 200 towns, mainly in large cities such as Paris, Lille, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse, and Montpellier. This accounts for around 15% of the population, states the website

However, PR wants the limit to be in place in all towns, and has called for a change in article R413-3 of the Code de la route (which would roll out the limit nationwide).

Road safety

The association believes that the lower limit would improve road safety, and make it easier for road users and pedestrians to share the public space.

“Our town centres are living spaces shared by everyone: schoolchildren, parents with pushchairs, the elderly, people with reduced mobility, motorists, cyclists and scooter users of all ages,” the petition page states.

The association believes that speed is a major factor in causing deaths on roads across France.

“The higher the speed, the smaller the driver's field of vision, the more difficult it is to gather information quickly, and the longer the stopping distance,” it states. 

It adds: 

  • At 30 km/h, a pedestrian has a 90% chance of surviving a collision with a vehicle

  • At 50 km/h, the chance is only 20%

Multiple benefits ‘for health and planet’

PR also states that reducing the speed limit would: 

  • Reduce noise pollution

  • Improve air pollution levels and respiratory health

  • Encourage the use of bicycles and walking

It is “good for health and for the planet”, said Prévention routière general delegate Anne Lavaud to the AFP. 

She also dismissed claims that reducing the limit to 30 km/h would cause traffic jams and queues, and frustrate drivers. 

“It only takes six seconds longer to cover a kilometre at 30 kph than at 50 kph,” she said, citing a 2023 report by the Centre d'études et d'expertise sur les risques, l'environnement, la mobilité et l'aménagement (Cerema).

It comes as the Paris mairie has said the speed limit on the périphérique ring road will be reduced to 50 km/h from 70 km/h, for the same reasons: to improve air quality, noise pollution, and safety.

Read also: Paris ring road will drop to 50km/h limit from September, says mairie

Controversial limits

Reducing speed limits in France has been controversial in the past.

In 2018, the government voted to lower the national limit on departmental roads from 90km/h to 80 km/h. The change applied to secondary roads, but did not apply to dual carriageways or motorways.

The move was incredibly unpopular among some authorities and driving associations in several departments, and in 2020 the government relented and allowed local department authorities to decide for themselves if they wished to keep the 90 km/h or revert to 90 km/h. More than half changed back. 

Yet, in 2022, road safety agency la Sécurité routière said that switching to 80km/h had saved 349 lives over the previous 20 months, and saved drivers €700 million (due to fewer accidents, and lower fuel consumption). 

Drivers’ associations dispute that changing speed limits contributes to fewer accidents, and some claim that it is more dangerous and frustrating to ask drivers to go at slower and slower speeds.