Drivers at risk as trend for road sign thefts grows in France

This ‘extremely stupid act could have serious and irreversible consequences’ says one mayor

One coach - with 39 children on-board - got into difficulty after a ‘no entry’ sign was stolen

Road sign theft is growing in France, with some communes noticing that increased numbers of signs - including important signals for STOP, a diversion, or a one-way street - are going missing.

The phenomenon is growing partly as a result of social media ‘trends’, authorities have said, with thieves showing off their latest ‘finds’ online.

Read also: Do you recognise these French road signs? Their meanings have changed… 

‘Could cause an accident’

One mayor, Xavier Jamois, of Dollon (Sarthe) said that seven signs worth €5,000 in total were stolen from his commune overnight on April 26 to 27. These included stop signs, one-way signs, and street names.

At first, he thought the thief could have been someone who was unhappy with the Stop sign, as its location has “been the subject of debate” in the town. “Or I thought it was someone looking for scrap metal,” he told L'Action L'Écho

He is now concerned that - on top of the financial cost - the lack of signage could cause an accident, for which the Mairie would be responsible.

The department of Ariège has also noted a rise in signage theft on departmental roads. In a statement, it said: “Signs are not there as decoration. They're there to inform road users of dangers (risk of slippage, falling stones, etc.), and the need to adapt their speed.”

Read also: Why French village and town road signs are being turned upside down 

‘We came close to a disaster’

Stolen signage can cause dramatic consequences; on March 11, a coach - with 39 children on board - travelling in Notre-Dame-de-Monts (Vendée) became dangerously stuck down a waterlogged path after one-way signs in the town had been stolen just a week after they were installed.

No one was hurt, but “we came very close to a disaster”, said mayor Raoul Grondin to Le Courrier Vendéen

“This unconscionable and extremely stupid act could have had serious and irreversible consequences,” he said in a Facebook post after the incident. A complaint for theft and endangering the lives of others has now been lodged with the local gendarmerie.

Stronger action taken

In March, four men were arrested in Niort (Deux-Sèvres), accused of stealing 34 road signs in the area. They were reportedly reselling them for their metal content.

Some authorities have now started to take stronger action against the thefts. Some are installing more surveillance cameras, and considering using other materials to create the signs, to remove their metal value.

“We're really going to have to think about [different methods],” said Mr Jamois in Dollon. “I’ve already been considering it for a while, at least on the main roads, to see who is entering and leaving our commune.”