New speed limits were tested in eastern France last year. Photo: AFP
It's a measure that's been in the making for years.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is expected to announce on Tuesday a reduction in the speed limit from 90km/h to 80km/h on departmental roads as part of the government's efforts to reduce the number of fatal road accidents in France.
“I know that if we announce this measure I will be criticized, but I know that it will save lives, and I want to save lives,” Philippe said.
The possible change in the speed limit could occur partly off the back of an experiment that was carried out between July 1st 2015 and July 1st 2017 when the limit was reduced to 80km/h on three secondary roads.
“The accident analysis is positive,” said Philippe, who added that 20 accidents resulting in three deaths and 42 injuries were recorded on these three roads during the experiment in a letter which reveals the results for the first time seen by BFM TV.
This compares favourably to the figures from the five years preceding the experiment which saw 67 accidents, resulting in 15 deaths and 108 injuries.
“Based on a two-year scale, these numbers correspond to 27 accidents, six killed and 43 wounded, respectively,” Philippe said.
The prime minister also said that the experiment to reduce the maximum authorized speed to 80 km/h “did not cause traffic congestion on these three roads”.
The possible change in law would affect 400,000 km of France's departmental roads and if it goes ahead it is expected to be introduced on July 1st 2018.
“If we can reduce the average speed by 10 percent, we get a 4.6 percent drop in the number of deaths,” France's delegate for road safety,” Emmanuel Barbe has been reported as saying.
“This is according to scientific data that has been measured by many studies in the world,” he added.
However the new measure has prompted outrage from driving associations including 40 million motorists.
The association quickly came out against the move, citing an experiment carried out in Denmark where the speed limit was increased from 80km/h to 90km/ h on a section of the country's secondary network which resulted in a 13 percent decrease in mortality over two years.
And according to a YouGov poll carried out on behalf of 20 Minutes they are backed up by the majority of the French population, with 67 percent of people believing that lowering the speed limit to 80 km/h would not be effective.
Unsurprisingly however the measure is 100 percent supported by several road safety associations.
Road mortality in France
France has a bad record for the number of fatal accidents that occur on its roads, with the death toll in 2016 reaching 3,469.
The possible law change comes at a time when road mortality has been on the rise since 2014 — the longest period of sustained increase since 1972.
And it is on the two-way roads outside urban areas, mostly with speed limits of 90 km/h where 55 percent of fatal accidents took place in 2016.
In 2017 there was the tragic case of a British father and his baby who were killed in a road crash during their holiday in Brittany, northwestern France.
The “excessive or unsuitable” speed was involved in a third (32 percent) of the fatal accidents, according to a report by France Info.
The Local has previously reported that France's road mortality rate increased in 2015 for the second year in a row, something the country hadn't seen for 35 years.
The former Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said previously that one of the primary reasons for the higher toll was increase in road traffic but also drivers taking risks.
“The rise also reflects an increase in risky behaviour that can lead to serious accident fatalities,” he said.
The former minister also said French drivers were “too relaxed” when it came to following the road rules, and that many motorists continued to drive “at excessive speed”.
A study in April 2015 from BVA found that 75 percent of French people acknowledged that they don't always stick to the speed limit.