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How France aims to make its roads safer for drivers and pedestrians

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AFP
14:33 CET+01:00
The French government has announced a series of measures aimed at cutting rising road deaths and ridding drivers of certain bad habits. Here's a look at what is planned to make driving in France safer.
In 2013 the number of road deaths in France stood at 3,268 - an all-time low.
 
But since then the toll has been rising steadily once again and in 2017 there were nearly 3,500 - double the number of fatalities on roads in the UK (1,792).
 
The French government has decided to act.
 
"Unsafe roads are not unavoidable," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said after a meeting of the government's road safety council this week, adding that road accidents had killed 105 people in France over the recent festive holidays.
 
These are the main measures the government announced and given their roles in the number of deaths it's no surprise they targeted speeding, drink-driving and those who use mobile phones at the wheel.
 
Cuts to speed limits
 
 
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The stand out move by the government and one that has long been mooted was to cut the speed limit on secondary two-lane highways to 80 kilometres per hour from 90 kilometres (55 miles) per hour.
 
About 55 percent of those deaths - 1,911 victims - occurred on the 400,000 kilometres of so-called "secondary" roads across France, two-lane routes with no separating guardrail.
 
"Excessive or inappropriate" speed was involved in 32 percent of those fatal accidents, which far exceeded those in urban areas.
 
The government says the lower speed limit, which will come into force in July 2018, could save 350 to 400 lives a year.
 
Opponents say speed isn't the problem, but rather the dangerous behaviour of many drivers.
 
"There's no reason to change speed limits: cars are getting better, as is road quality," said Daniel Quero, president of the 40 Million Drivers advocacy group.
 
Signs already warn drivers to slow to 70 kmh in dangerous sections, Quero said, calling the government's plan "one more penalizing measure".
 
Mobile phones
 
 
The French government also announced a crack down on the use of cellphones while driving, an infraction that currently results in a 135-euro fine ($160) and the loss of three points from the 12-point driver's licence.
 
The use of mobile phones by drivers is linked to one in 10 fatal accidents in France.
 
From 2019 police will be able to suspend a licence for up to six months if the driver is found to have broken other laws while using a phone which could "endanger his own security or that of someone else."
 
Vehicle Ignition breathalyzers (Ignition Interlock)
 
 
The French government has also vowed to take on drink drivers and in particular repeat offenders.
 
Alcohol is linked to around 30 percent of all road deaths in France and over the years French governments have tried various moves to cut that alarming figure.
 
In 2012 drivers were ordered to carry a portable breathalyser kit in each car, but interestingly that  measure has been ditched by the current government.
 
From now on anyone caught driving over the limit for a second time will be forced to fit their car with a vehicle ignition breathalyser or ignition interlock, which means they will have to take a test before they can start their car.
 
If they are over the limit the engine simply won't start. The rogue drivers will also be asked to visit a specialist psychologist.
 
The technology was made compulsory in all coaches and buses in 2015. 
 
Ignition interlocks or EAD's (éthylotest antidémarrage) as they are known in France can be also be voluntary fitted by drivers who have had their licences suspended for drink-driving but want to keep on driving.
 
And to fight against drink driving portable breathalyser kits will be routinely placed in shops next to where alcoholic drinks are sold.
 
Speed controllers for racing drivers
 
From 2021 the government will make it possible for speeding drivers who have had their licenses suspended after being caught going 40km/h over the speed limit to continue driving as long as they fit an automatic speed control device to their car, which would effectively cap their speeds according to the limit of each road.
 
 
Protecting pedestrians
 
The French government also wants to better protect pedestrians from drivers.
 
Some 559 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in 2016 a rise of 19.4 percent on the previous year. For a start the government wants to increase the punishment of drivers who fail to respect the rules when pedestrians have priority such as at crossings (once they have stepped out into the road).
 
The government has suggested video cameras will be used to spot and fine those who don't stop when they should.
 
A scheme is also being planned to better secure the immediate surroundings of pedestrian crossings by redefining parking spaces and markings on the ground. Lines could be painted on roads five metres before crossings as a warning that motorists must stop.
 
Exemplary drivers
 
Although nothing is set in stone the French government has announced it will be considering some way of rewarding exemplary drivers in France - in other words those who have received no penalty points on their licences.
 
Some 37 million drivers in France have a clean licence. The National Committee on Road Safety (CNSR) has been tasked to define the scheme.
 
Police checks hidden from apps
 
From the end of this year the police in France will be able to demand those behind road apps to prevent users from letting others know where they have set up police checks.
 
They will only be able to do this as part of a plan to snare drink or drug drivers rather than those going over the speed limit and it can only be done on a temporary basis.
 
Car pound for serious offenses
 
Beginning in 2019, serious offenders, such as those caught driving without a license, using a narcotic, or being caught well over the limit, will have their vehicle immediately impounded.
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