Posting on Facebook has long carried the risk of embarrassment or insult, but increasingly, it seems, it could land you in trouble with the law.
That’s exactly what’s happened to a group of ten drivers in Aveyron in south-western France after they posted warnings on a Facebook page to other motorists about the locations of speed cameras and where police were carrying out traffic stops.
And while some might consider the posts an act of citizenship and others may understand it counts as a minor infraction, prosecutors in France are taking it very seriously.
The defendants in the case, who’ve been charged with illegally detecting a speed enforcement device, could see their drivers’ licenses revoked and face an up to €1,500 fine.
One of the men charged said the case is ridiculous given that he simply warned his friends there was a speed camera on the side of the road.
“I’m being prosecuted because they have likened me to a radar detector,” David Alègre, 40, a lorry driver told French daily Le Figaro.
France has cracked down in recent years on devices that enable drivers to be aware of the location of speed cameras. In January 2012 the government introduced a law which banned the use radar warning devices, including GPS systems that included speed camera detectors. The devices were allowed to make drivers aware of traffic black spots or dangerous road sections.
Averyon prosecutor Yves Delpérié said he got fed up with people using Facebook to circumvent law enforcement’s efforts to save lives.
“I lay awake at night because people are getting killed on the road,” Delpérié told Le Figaro. “It’s appalling that certain people put out warnings about the locations of speed cameras."
This case could have wide reaching consequences in France, where scores of online sites allow drivers to reveal the locations speed cameras. In the case of the Averyon page, just ten people have been charged, but some 9,000 others follow it and are able to call out speed traps.
The lawyer for the lorry driver said the prosecution’s desire to make the roads safe is admirable, but he’s going about it the wrong way.
“The emotion of this prosecutor shouldn't be a factor in roadway safety,” lawyer Rémy Josseaume told BFM TV. “Traffic fatalities are horrible, but why not reinforce drunken driving checks or forbid drivers from using their mobiles?”
He went on to note the prosecutor is overlooking all the other ways people can learn about the location of speed cameras and officers doing traffic enforcement.
“I’m talking about radar detector companies, the media which publishes maps of France’s most used speed cameras and the police who themselves warn of speed enforcement actions on social media. It’s a double standard.”
France may see even more of this kind of friction as the country’s top cop, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has just announced a new plan to drop the speed limit to 80 km/h on certain roads.
He said it’s just an experiment, but as France has brought its number of road deaths to a record low and hopes to continue the drop, the experiment may become permanent.