French roads ‘will be deadlier’ when speeding penalties eased

The government says it will stop deducting points from drivers’ licences for minor speeding offences, but opponents have called the move ‘disgusting’

The government plans to stop taking points from driving licences for small speeding infractions, but campaigners are against it
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Road safety campaigners have warned there will be “more deaths and injuries” on French roads when the government ends licence points punishments for small speeding offences.

In a letter, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced plans to “adapt the [current] repressive regime for small excesses of speed” from January 1, 2024.

He explained from this date, for speeds of less than 5km/h over the limit, drivers would no longer be deducted points from their licence (in France, drivers lose points, rather than receive them).

Read more: Drivers in France may no longer lose points for low-level speeding

However, he said that he did not plan to “decriminalise these infractions”, which will still be punished by a fine. Mr Darmanin called it a “common sense measure” for citizens.

Figures show that in 2020, of the 12.5 million speeding tickets sent due to speed cameras, 58% were about speeding excesses of less than 5km/h.

Pierre Chasseray, general delegate of the motoring association 40 millions d’automobilistes, welcomed the measure. He said: “We have been working on this measure with the interior minister for years, so I can only celebrate.”

Read also: Explainer: 11 questions about private speed camera cars in France

Read also: The French speed cameras that reward rather than punish

‘Road safety a political instrument’

But Pierre Lagache, vice-president of road safety group la Ligue contre la violence routière, said that this was a “step back” that would cause “conditions of a relaxation in behaviour”.

He told FranceInfo that road safety had become “a political instrument”.

“We have seen a number of consecutive steps back,” Mr Lagache added. “The return to 90km/h in some departments, the refusal of a contrôle technique for motorbikes, the stopping of urban speed cameras.”

He said that when automatic speed cameras were announced and put in place in 2002, speed levels dropped even before the cameras were installed.

“[The government] is sending a message that our road safety policy is stopping, there’s nothing to worry about. You can relax,” he said.

The government is doing this against a “strained social context” - a nod to the discontent over controversial pension reforms - and “it’s one of the ways to manage this situation, is to relax a certain number of road safety measures”.

“This weaponising of our road safety really makes you question how our institutions work, and it’s a bit disgusting.”

Mr Lagache said that the measure would cause more deaths and injuries on the road.

In contrast, Mr Chasseray said the new measure “will allow us to show that this will have no effect on accidents”.

The new measure will come five and a half years after the government first lowered the speed limit on departmental roads (without a central reservation) to 80km/h, in a bid to reduce accidents. The furore then led the government to make a U-turn, allowing departments to return to 90km/h if they wished.

Read more: 80 or 90km/h? French speed limit changes continue to cause confusion

Road safety statistics show that there were 3,260 deaths on mainland French roads in 2022, a rise of 0.5% compared to 2019 (the last year before the effects of the pandemic).

The latest government figures show that in March 2023, there was a 14% drop in mortality and a 15% drop in severe injury, compared to March 2022.

How do speeding fines work for UK drivers in France?

Points for infractions in France cannot be taken from a foreign licence.

If you commit a road traffic offence that is likely to involve a loss of points, the rules state that you should pay the relevant fine and apply to swap your UK licence for a French one. The French one will then have the necessary points deducted.

This is especially true for people who live in France and have been driving on an EU or UK licence that did not require them to swap within a year of moving to the country. This applies to all EU and UK licences (except if the licence was issued after January 1, 2021).

If the license was issued after January 1, 2021, then you must swap it for a French one within the first year of residence as a matter of course.

Uk resident drivers are also required to swap their UK licence for a French one if their licence is approaching its expiry date.

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