Why are there more people dying on French roads?

The latest figures reveal that the number of people dying on France’s roads continues to rise, despite a raft of new measures. One road safety group is blaming smartphones and Facebook.

Why are there more people dying on French roads?
All photos: AFP

At around 10pm on Saturday evening two cars smashed head on into each other on a country road near the western city of Rennes.

The collision left two dead – the latest fatalities to occur on French roads, which are the scene for thousands of deaths each year.

And the numbers are rising year after year, month after month.

A total of 3,464 people died on French roads last year, a 2.4 percent increase compared to 2014. 

That came after a 3.5 percent increase on the year 2013. Although it's a long way from the figure of 18,000, who died in the “année noire” (black year) of 1970, new data suggests 2016 will be another black year.

In March 2016 some 257 people were killed on the roads in France, a rise of just over 14 percent on the same month last year.

So what’s going wrong? Why, despite numerous measures brought in by the government to cut road deaths, is the number of victims actually increasing?

For Anne Lavaud, general delegate at the French road safety organization Prevention Routiere, the main reason for the “very worrying” rise is smartphones.

Speed camera detectors lead to more speeding

“Speed is the number one cause of fatal accidents in France and what we’ve noticed is that there’s an increase in the average speed on French roads,” she told The Local.

“Since 2014, the average speed on motorways in France has gone up by 4km/h and on other roads, it has increased by 2 km/h.

“Our explanation for that is the number of smartphones apps that exist that warn drivers about the location of speed cameras on roads. These days drivers are equipped.”

Apps and TomTom navigators that point out the placements of speed cameras are in theory illegal in France, but drivers are clearly prepared to flout the law.

If motorists know exactly where the cameras are then they will generally drive at a faster speed and as Levaud points out “speed is the number one cause of deaths on French roads”.

“They feel freer and are driving faster,” Levaud said.

Facebook communities driving authorities mad

(Inhabitants of Mazamet, southern France, lie in the road during a demonstration to raise public awareness about road accidents, on May 17, 1973. The number of road deaths in France in 1972 amounted to 16,545)

It’s not just smartphone apps that are helping drivers detect the placement of speed cameras.

Levaud says there are 33 different Facebook groups in France, with a total of around half a million followers, that are dedicated to pointing out where cameras are, even mobile ones operated by police.

“The online communities talk to each and they help to reduce the effectiveness of speed cameras,” she said.

And they seem to be having an impact on the number of people being caught for speeding

In 2014 there were 13.5 million drivers “flashed” by speed cameras in France, but that number dropped to 12.5 million in 2015.

To counteract the apps and the growth of online communities Lavaud says French authorities must move away from fixed speed cameras to having more mobile “radars” hidden in unmarked cars.

The fact France is privatizing its legion of mobile speed cameras in a bid to get them into use more, suggests the message has got across to the powers that be.

But is the rise in deaths, which is threatening to scupper France’s promise to get the number under 2,000 a year by 2020, down to apps and Facebook groups alone?

Lack of respect on the roads?

In January this year Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said French drivers were getting “taking more risks” and blasted their “irresponsible behaviour”.

And a report by Axa insurance in April 2015 concluded that basically French drivers were getting worse and were less respectful of the rules of the road.

In the survey, a worrying numbers of drivers admitted to using their telephones at the wheel, while others admitted to having an alcoholic drink before driving.  

However the 2016 survey released on Tuesday, suggested behaviour had improved on the roads despite the rise in the mortality rate, although perhaps not by enough.

Some 23 percent of drivers admitted to drinking “two glasses of an alcoholic drink” before getting behind the wheel.

Meanwhile many foreign drivers in France (at least those who frequent our Facebook page) insist the lack of respect and politeness shown on French roads makes accidents more likely.

Prevention Routiere’s Lavaud says it’s hard to determine whether a lack of politeness among French drivers was a real cause of fatal accidents, although she accepted it was “disagreeable for foreign drivers”.

“I don’t think there’s a correlation. Remember we are talking about fatal accidents here. The real causes are speed, alcohol and drugs at the wheel.

Alcohol was detected in around 30 percent of fatal accidents in France, even if it may not have been the determining cause.

Lavaud did accept however that French drivers may have less respect for rules than in other countries.

“It’s forbidden to use a mobile phone while driving, but we see people doing it all the time,” Levaud said.

Delay in measures having an impact

Lavaud also pointed out that there is a delay between the government announcing measures to crack down on road deaths and those measures having an impact on statistics.

For example, in January 2015 a new law was announced that would oblige motorcyclists to wear fluorescent vests, but that rule has only just come into place in April 2016.

While the French government has announced a flurry of measures in the last two years, very few of them are in place.

Interestingly, her association is trying to persuade the government to include an amendment to its controversial labour reforms that would allow workers to “switch off from work at the wheel”.

The bill already includes an article allowing workers the right to basically turn off their work phones once they at home. The Prevention Routiere said this should be extended to workers who are driving.

“When people are driving and the boss rings they feel obliged to answer it, because they are worried it will look bad if they don’t, but we want the government to give them the right not to respond while they are driving,” she said.

If their idea is accepted it will no doubt take a while for it to come into force.

However, given the pressure the French government are under to cut road deaths it would be surprising if it wasn't adopted.

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The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

From petrol discounts and motorway tolls to low-emission zones and help to buy a greener car, here’s what’s changing for motorists in France in the next 12 months.

The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

Petrol prices 

The French government’s €0.10 per litre discount on petrol and diesel ends on January 1st, and TotalEnergies’ discount-match at its fuel stations also finishes.

Motorists may be able to look forward to some help from the supermarket chain E.Leclerc, which also owns several petrol stations across France, after the head of the chain E.Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, told BFM Politique on December 18th that the company would “make a gesture” to help motorists in France with rising fuel prices, but he did not provide any further details.

But the blanket discount will be replaced by targeted assistance for households on lower incomes who rely on their vehicles for work, with about 10 million workers expected to receive a one-off payment of €100.

To apply for the aid, you will need to register your details on the tax website. 

READ ALSO Who will get France’s €100 fuel hand-out and how?


The French government has unveiled a plan to encourage carpooling on Tuesday, offering drivers who register on carpooling platforms a benefit of €100.

Drivers will be able to register starting on January 1st, and the payment of €100 will be done in instalments – with a lump sum of “at least” €25 upon registration and then the remaining amount distributed over the course of 10 carpool journeys.

“Carpooling is a very effective lever for reducing our country’s fuel consumption in a sustainable way. It is good for the climate and good for the purchasing power of the French,” French environment minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Huffpost.

READ ALSO French government announces €100 payment for those joining carpooling platforms

Motorway tolls

From February, motorway toll fees will rise by an average of 4.75 percent, after rising 2 percent in 2022.

The Transport Ministry pointed out that the 4.75 percent toll increase – announced in October – is “markedly lower” than France’s inflation rate of 6.33 percent. 

On some networks, electric vehicles will benefit from a five percent discount, while regular users – who make a minimum of 10 return journeys a month on the same route – may be eligible for a discount of 40 percent, up from the current 30 percent. Check with the motorway operator for details.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

Breakdown fees

No one wants to break down on the motorway, but if you do, you probably want to know how much getting your vehicle fixed will cost. The annual government-set charges are clear.

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee was to rise €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

READ ALSO French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Extra help to buy electric vehicles

French president Emmanuel Macron announced in October an increase in the financial aid available for anyone who trades in a combustion engine car for an electric one from January 2023.

In a partial reversal on previous plans, under which the ecological bonus for trading in an older car for an electric model was set to fall, Macron said: “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone, we are going to increase the ecological bonus from €6,000 to €7,000 for half of [France’s] households.” 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: The financial aid available to buy an electric car in France

Electric car charge points

Since 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. Anyone who ignores the rule risks a fine of €58.

Crit’Air sticker extension and more fines for polluting vehicles

France’s environment minister announced in October a major extension of the city low-emission zones controlled by Crit’Air stickers, plus an increase in fines up to a maximum of €750. 

Between 2023 and 2025, 43 more French cities will create low-emission zones, on top of the 11 that already have them.

READ MORE: Crit’Air: Drivers face €750 fines in France’s new low-emission zones

The Crit’Air system requires all motorists – including the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles – going to any of the low-emission zones to get a sticker for their vehicle. The sticker assigns the vehicle a number from 0 (all electric vehicles) to 5 (the most polluting).

Some low emission zones will begin gradually banning more polluting cars. Paris, for instance, intends to ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles in July 2023, a move held back from July 2022.

READ ALSO Driving in France: How the Crit’Air vehicle sticker system works

Winter tyres

France introduced a law, the Loi Montage II (mountain law II), in 2020 making winter tyres, chains or socks compulsory in certain areas, which will finally come into effect in 2023.

The law makes either snow tyres, all-weather tyres or chains compulsory in 48 of France’s 96 mainland départements – generally those areas which are mountainous, with local authorities in those départements responsible for deciding where such rules will be applied.

READ ALSO Winter tyres and snow chains: What are the rules in France?


Drivers in France may not have to worry about the little green stickers that they attach to their windscreen (windshield) soon, after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced plans to scrap them in favour of a digitalised system set to start in 2023.

The goal, according to the finance minister, is to simplify the process for drivers and reduce costs.

French car insurers, like France Assureurs, have been pushing for the piece of paper to be scrapped for some time.

READ ALSO France announces plan to scrap vehicle insurance windscreen stickers

Roadworthiness test for motorcycles

After some back and forth, the French council of the state decided in October that motorcycles (two-wheeled vehicles) would also need to comply with “roadworthiness” testing starting January 1st, 2023. This is part of a decree passed by the French government in August 2021, and it specifically concerns two-wheeled vehicles registered to dates prior to 2016. The council of the state specified that the vehicles concerned are “motor vehicles with two, three or four wheels with a cylinder capacity of more than 125 cm3.” As of December 2022, the details regarding how this plan will be implemented were not yet available, so it is possible enforcement measures will be staggered, according to reporting by Auto-Moto.