France sets an example over fall in road deaths

The number of people killed on Europe’s roads in a year dropped by over 15,000 in ten years with France making more progress to improve road safety than most of the rest of the continent. Although there are still dangers out there on French roads.

France sets an example over fall in road deaths
France is doing better than most of Europe to cut the number of road deaths. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

French drivers may get a bad reputation, especially from expats living in France, but safety has improved on the country’s more than in almost all other European countries.

A new report published on Tuesday by European road safety body ETSC revealed that the number of road deaths across the continent had dropped by 55 percent.

In terms of the number of fatalities that reflects a drop from 27, 700 killed on the roads in 2001 to 12,345, killed in 2012.

Although Spain had made the most progress with a 12 percent drop in road deaths, followed by Latvia on 11 percent, France came in third with an almost 9 percent dip in fatalities over the same time frame.

That’s better than the European average, which stands at a 7.4 percent fall.

At the other end of the scale was Romania, that saw a drop of less than one percent and Poland which saw a fall in road deaths of just under 4 percent. In the UK the number of fatalities was just above the European average of 7.4 percent.

'Crazy French drivers': The real rules of la Route in France 

Road safety has been made a priority under the socialist government, with various measures having been taken to cut the number of road deaths from the introduction of hidden mobile speed cameras to suggested drops in speed limits.

In January this year The Local reported how France saw a record drop in the number of deaths on its roads meaning they were at their lowest level since 1948.

A government plan to drop the speed limit on secondary roads to 80 km/h has been met with opposition from motorist groups.

But according to the ETSC survey it is France’s secondary road network that poses the greatest danger.

Around 80 percent of fatal accidents are on secondary of roads. Almost half of fatal accidents involve just one vehicle and 30 percent are due to head-on collisions.

A new survey published on Thursday also revealed French drivers were still fond of some bad driving habits.

The TNS Sofres survey revealed that one in two drivers have used their mobile phones whilst driving. Drivers also admitted to breaking the speed limits when restricted to driving at 50 km/h in towns. But on a postive note there was a notable drop in the number of drivers who admitted to getting behind the wheel of a car after having downed a few alcoholic drinks.

What can France and the rest of Europe do to improve things further? ETSC recommends implementing stricter laws regarding speed, drink-driving and the wearing of seat-belts.

It also recommends improving the instruction given to learner-drivers. France is also considering a controversial change to the law that would allow 15-year-old's to get behind the wheel of a car.

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Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Over the past few months France has brought in several new laws relating to the roads - here is what you need to know, whether you're a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist.

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Changes for bicycles

France already has quite strict laws in place for cyclists, including a ban on listening to music on headphones while cycling, but as the government attempts to boost cycling in France, some additional laws have come into effect.

New categories – Starting in October 2022, France will create two additional categories for bicycles: the vélomobile (bicyles with protective panelling) and the vélo couché (horizontal bicycles). As these bikes are lower to the ground and more difficult for motorists to detect, they will be banned on roads where speed limits exceed 50 km/h.

Fast bicycles – Bicycles whose electric assistance allows them to go up to 45km/h will have to ride on a D9 track on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or more. This type of track allows for a separate space for pedestrians and cyclists. These types of bicycles should not ride on D10 tracks (where the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians) for safety reasons.

Reflectors – New rules will go into place at the start of October also allow bicycles to use orange or yellow reflectors, which were previously prohibited. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about cycling in France

Changes for drivers


Signs banning the use of “cruise control” were repealed starting October 1st.

Additionally, starting in October, on the road in front of railroad crossings, a checkerboard marking area will be added to limit the possibility of accidents. This is intended to help vehicles be more aware of where they cannot enter, particularly if they are to be blocked in that space due to traffic. 

QUIZ How well do you know your French driving laws?

Electric vehicles

Starting October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Violators risk a fine of €58.

Driverless cars

Starting September 1st, a new set of laws went into place that allowed for the licensing of more types of autonomous vehicles on the road in France, albeit with some limits.

Specifically, the laws concern “Level 3” (on a scale of 1 to 5) ‘semi-autonomous vehicles.’ These vehicles can operate either with a driver or automatically. However, France is still a long way from allowing unmanned vehicles on the roads, and it is important to note that so far only one such semi-autonomous vehicle has been approved for use – the Mercedes S-Class. Several other manufacturers have also announced their plans to launch their own versions.

City vehicle limits

Several new cities have introduced either introduced or extended their current rules regarding low-emission zones, which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain areas, based on the Crit’Air sticker system.

As of September 1st, the cities of Marseilles, Lyon and Rouen introduced such changes.

All vehicles are required to display a Crit’Air sticker, which gives them a rating of 1-5 based on their emissions level.

In Marseille Crit’Air 5 vehicles will be banned from a zone in the city centre, while the law comes into effect on September 1st, police will only start issuing fines on October 1st.

In Lyon the low-emission zone which is already in place in the city and its surrounding suburbs will now include private vehicles – previously it only concerned commercial vehicles. It covers Crit’Air 3,4 and 5 vehicles, however fines will only start being given in January 2023, until then police will simply inform drivers of the new rules.

READ MORE: MAP: Which French cities have vehicle bans or restrictions?

Rouen too is expanding its low-emission zone – which covers 13 communes of the city and its suburbs – to include private vehicles with a Crit’Air 4 or 5 rating.

A similar scheme is already in place in Paris, covers vehicles with Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 ratings, while several other cities have intermittent schemes that come into effect when pollution levels rise. 

The sticker requirement covers both French and foreign-registered cars.

“Contrôle techniques” for motocycles and two-wheel vehicles

Technically, all motorised two-wheel vehicles were expected to need to submit to inspects as per a 2014 directive from the European Union.

In France this means the Contrôle technique – the regular vehicle inspection already required for cars (similar to the MOT in the UK). This would affect owners of motorised two-wheelers (scooters, motorcycles, mopeds) larger than 50 centimetres cubed. It would also impact owners of unlicensed cars, three-wheeled scooters, sidecars and quads.

If you have a vehicle dating from before 2016, according to the directive by the European Union, you should do your technical inspection prior to October 1st. For vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2020, you have (in theory) until January 1, 2024. There is no set time frame for newer vehicles.

However, there has been much confusion surrounding this rule. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has attempted to pass legislation eliminating the obligation, but the legal status of the French government’s attempts are unclear, as they are still being judged by the European Commission. There will likely be more clarity on the subject, including further regulations regarding sound pollution, in the coming months, according to La Nouvelle Republique

According to reporting by La Voix du Nord, owners of two-wheeled vehicles do not have to worry about being fined if they have not yet submitted to inspections. 


Within the city of Paris, riders of motorbikes, mopeds and scooters now have to pay for parking.

The new rules come into effect on Thursday, September 1st and concern motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Anyone who parks a motorbike, moped or a scooter with an internal combustion engine in public parking spaces within the Paris area has to pay.

READ MORE: Paris brings in new parking fees for motorbikes and scooters

Low-emission two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, can still park for free – however you will still need to register with the scheme.