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12 Portuguese killed on France’s ‘road of death’

Twelve Portuguese passengers, including a seven-year-old girl, died when their minibus collided with a heavy truck on a highway in central France known locally as "the road of death".

12 Portuguese killed on France's 'road of death'
Photo: Mehdi Fedouch/AFP file picture

The crash occurred late Thursday as the minibus was travelling from Switzerland to Portugal, taking the passengers home for the Easter holidays.

“The 12 passengers of the minibus, who were all Portuguese, are dead,” said a statement from the local authority.

Authorities said the minibus swerved for an unknown reason and slammed head-first into the truck on a notorious traffic blackspot near the town of Moulins.

The minibus driver and two Italian drivers of the truck suffered injuries but are expected to survive.

An initial inquiry said the driver of the minibus was not under the influence of alcohol, and police have opened an investigation into the cause of the crash.

The accident took place on a portion of the Centre-Europe Atlantic Road which crosses the whole of France from east to west.

There are so many accidents on the highway that locals have nicknamed it “the road of death”.

Local newspaper La Montagne reported that the number of deaths on the road is five times the national average.

The road “is quite monotonous, the speed limit is 90 kilometres (55 miles) per hour. There are those who are impatient and those who fall asleep,” said a source close to the investigation, adding that there are only four passing zones in the area.

“They've been talking about adding a second lane for 40 years,” he added.

A local official told AFP: “It's the deadliest road in France. When you add it up, we've had 15 deaths in a year.”

Gerard Deriot, head of the regional council of Allier where the accident took place, said he was “appalled” to see more deaths on the road.

“It is appalling when, for years you have pushed the state to assume its responsibilities” and upgrade the road, said the politician, a representative of the opposition Republicans party.

Secretary of State for Transport Alain Vidalies said more than 100 million euros ($111 million ) had been set aside in 2016 to upgrade the road.

A local village hall was being used as a temporary morgue.

The road was closed following the accident, and was expected to remain shut until 9:00 am (0800 GMT) Friday.

The crash comes after after two school bus accidents in February left eight dead in France.

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TRAVEL

Power points: What I learned driving 1,777km through France in an electric car

France is a land of many inventions including the cinema, cricket (a disputed claim admittedly) and the electric car, writes John Lichfield.

Power points: What I learned driving 1,777km through France in an electric car
The French government offers big subsidies to people who buy electric cars. Photo: AFP

Unfortunately, the French invented the electric car a century and a half too early.

In late 19th century, many French cars were electric-powered. They operated on giant batteries which could not be recharged. In the first decade of the 20th century, they were run off the road by the Model-T Ford and by cheap, untaxed petrol.

The second French coming of the electric car, post circa-2014, has been slow – despite government subsidies of €6,000 a car, raised to €7,000 from June.

Sales have jumped in the last two years. There are now reckoned to be over 80,000 private, electric cars on French roads – about 2 percent of the national fleet.

This month, I did my bit for the revolution. I drove a Renault Zoe for 1,777 kilometres from Normandy to the Atlantic Coast to Occitanie and back to Normandy.

 

The experience was, by turns, wonderful and frustrating.

Wonderful because we limited ourselves almost entirely to two-lane roads, rediscovering the vastness of France and its endless variety and beauty, often unknown or forgotten.

Wonderful, also, because the secondary road network in France has been so improved and is so well-maintained (whatever the Gilets Jaunes may say). Some of us recall the crumbling and dangerous N and D roads of the 1970s and 1980s.

Almost all of the roads that we travelled – many of them D-roads – were well-surfaced and had expensively remodelled junctions. France has become, overnight it seems, a land of one million roundabouts.

But what of electric travel in France in 2020? Is it a viable alternative to petrol or diesel?

Is it cheaper? How easy is it to find and use the public recharging points?

This is where the frustrations start.

Much depends on what kind of electric car you use. There are now 43 models available for sale in France, ranging from the expensive to the very expensive.

A Renault Zoe on the production line at Flins-sur-Seine in Yvelines. Photo: AFP

A top of the range Tesla costs €90,000; a bottom of the range Zoe costs €32,000 if you buy, rather than lease, the battery. This is between two and three times more than the equivalent petrol or diesel cars.

The government and regional subsidies help but they apply in full only to the cheaper models.

The cheapest Tesla gives you 500 kilometres of travel before you need to stop and recharge. My 2019 Zoe gives, in theory, 300km (actually it can be less, or more, depending on the ambient temperature, average speed and steepness of the terrain). The new version 2020 Zoe gives 395km.

I’ve had my Zoe for just over a year. It is intended as a city or local rural run-about. In that role, it is excellent.

It’s not a car for long-distances, unless you decide, as we did, to re-create the experience of “motoring” through France in the 1960s.

As soon as you travel at over 90kph, battery power melts alarmingly. Ditto when you go up steep hills but at least your battery recharges when you come down the other side.

Teslas, as I understand it, can travel at full autoroute speed without losing too much range. Other, cheaper (but not cheap) electric cars are more like the Zoe.

What about recharging when far from home? This is, in theory, simple. There are over 28,000 charging points in France. Most small towns and many large villages have them.

A charging point in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Photo: AFP

The problem is that they are operated by local or regional networks – or in the case of the super-fast ones, national or international networks. The prices vary. So do the connecting cables. So do the charging speeds.

Some order and common-sense has been brought to this jumble in the last year or so by badges or cards which give access to most (not all) of the charging bornes. I have joined Chargemap. Other cards are available.

In our Travels with Zoe, the cost of recharges at public bornes ranged from €10.26 to zero. The expensive one was in Perigueux in Dordogne. The free one was at a supermarket south of Limoges.

Free is good but we earned it by spending two hours of our Sunday in an empty supermarket carpark.

Lengths of re-charging time vary with the power of the borne. With our Zoe, a complete recharge at the most common points varied from four hours to two hours. At home it takes 12 hours. The new fast points claim to be able to recharge half a Tesla battery in half an hour.

Finding the bornes is, in theory, easy. There are several apps which list and locate them. In practise, they can be hard to spot. Once found, they are occasionally out of order or closed. In one town we visited, two charging stations were out of action and one had the wrong kind of connection.

For 1,777 km, I spent €26.54 on electricity. Of this €24.44 went on public charging points. The rest – €2.10 – is the estimated cost of three charges on house mains. By my estimate, a similar trip would cost €180 to €220 in petrol or diesel, depending on the size of the car. My estimated saving in autoroute tolls was €90.

On the other hand, the need to recharge for long periods meant that we spent three nights in hotels that we might otherwise have avoided. Cost: €300.

 

Conclusion one: The Zoe is not a car for speeding through France – and does not claim to be. It is a wonderful little car for care-free wandering carelessly La France Profonde (care-free but range-anxious).

For comparison, someone sent me an example of an 832 km Tesla journey in France which took ten hours with two recharges and cost €25.

Conclusion two: Buying an electric car – any electric car – is expensive and probably a bad idea. Their re-sale value is likely to be small as subsequent models improve.

Consider leasing instead. I did not buy my Zoe, I leased it – and its battery – for three years. I reckon that the saving in diesel alone has paid for the lease.

Conclusion three:  This time around, electric cars are here to stay. 

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