France speed camera damage ‘cost €660m and death rise’

The destruction of speed cameras across France has cost the State €660 million from 2018 to 2019, and may also been linked to a 17% rise in road deaths to February 2019, official figures show.

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Data on the State budget was released from the ministry of Economy and Finance this week, which confirmed a report by newspaper Les Echos.

According to the ministry numbers, the government lost €209 million in 2018, of the €928 million it had expected to receive. In 2019, losses may be as large as €455 million, reports have suggested.

Road safety agency l'Observatoire National Interministériel de la Sécurité Routière (ONISR) this week also suggested that damage to speed cameras could have contributed to the 17.1% increase in road deaths recorded for February 2019.

That month, 37 more people died that in February 2018, after an already-deadly January, in which the death rate rose 3.9% for 2019 compared to 2018.

Widespread damage to speed cameras began to be reported in the summer of 2018, after the government announced that it would reduce the speed limit to 80 kph on some departmental roads.

On March 1 2019, minister for the interior Christophe Castaner declared that 75% of all speed cameras had been damaged.

President Emmanuel Macron has drawn a direct line between the speed camera damage and the rise in roads deaths.

Speaking on the subject in response to a mayor who said he was “shocked” by the speed camera damage, President Macron said: “I would thank you for denouncing this unacceptable behaviour, the results of which are immediately clear when we look at the latest figures.”

In a statement, the ONISR said: “The effect of the significant damage to these fixed speed cameras is growing, and seems to be showing up as a ‘relaxation’ in behaviour on all roads.

“There appears to be a ‘carnival atmosphere’: the rules have been suspended. These are not huge excesses of speed - the French are reasonable people. It is just that they are no longer paying attention.”

Anne Lavaud, from the road safety association Prévention Routière, said that the national conversation around speed cameras, and their damage, had also not helped.

She said: “In talking about general damage to speed cameras, we are communicating that there is a sort of ‘non-penalisation’ of speed, which has [in turn] caused a general increase in speed.”

However, some critics of the 80 kph speed limit have said that the rise in deaths shows that the measure has not worked as intended.

Pierre Chasseray, representative at road user campaign group 40 Millions d'Automobilistes, said: “Today, we can no longer say that the ‘80 kph’ works.”

Alain Fouché, Independent senator for the Vienne department, said: “[This rise’] shows the government’s total failure on road safety.”

Yet, Ms Lavaud said it was likely too soon to conclude on the measure’s effectiveness.

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 not seen as a punishment or a limit on freedom.”

Road safety specialist and researcher Laurent Carnis said: “The destruction of speed cameras have without doubt had a negative effect on road accident rates. [But] to measure the impact of this, we must inquire and take into consideration all of the factors that may influence the road accident situation.”

For example, February 2019 saw “exceptional sunshine” - according to Météo France - compared to the February before.

This - along with an increase in the number of people cycling overall - may explain a rise in the number of cyclist road deaths in February 2019, for example.

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