Number of deaths on French roads falls to record low

There has never been fewer deaths on France's roads according to the Prime Minister who released the "historic" figures on Monday morning.

Number of deaths on French roads falls to record low
Photo :AFP

French PM Edouard Philippe announced that there were 3,259 deaths on the country's roads in 2018.

That's down from for 3,448 deaths the previous year and represents a record low for the number of road fatalities.

“There has never been such a low number of deaths of the French roads,” said Philippe. “These figures are historic”.

Philippe added that the controversial cut to the speed limit from 90km/h to 80 km/h on secondary roads had saved 116 lives, evidence that he believes shows it would be a mistake to row back on the reform.

“When we made this decision (to cut the speed limit] we took on our responsibility.

“We made a decision that we knew was unpopular […] but that  produce results and did not seem to us to bring into question the way our fellow citizens can travel around. We are proud of the results and of those lives saved,” said Philippe.

“We are proud to have taken on our responsibility.”


The number of deaths rose for three straight years between 2014 and 2016 and near-stagnated in 2017 before falling to the historic low last year.

But road deaths actually started to fall at the start of 2018 before the new speed limit cut was implemented in July of that year, something those against the measure have been quick to pick up on. 

“Death rates had generally been slowing down, even a year before the speed limit,” said the French drivers' organisation 40 millions d'automobilistes. 

Many people in France oppose the speed limit change

A recent poll showed that a majority of French people – especially those who live in rural areas – want the reform abolished and it has emerged as one of the 'Yellow Vests' major gripes.

According to the interior ministry, 60% of the country's speed cameras have been vandalised in recent months as the protests have grown.

Although the fall in deaths will be good news for defenders of the measure, President Emmanuel Macron has shown signs that he is open to discussing reform it once more.

“We must find a more intelligent way to implement this together” Macron told 600 mayors earlier on this month.

He was addressing them as part of the two-month “Grand National Debate” which he launched this month aimed at quelling the “yellow vest” anger over inequality and Macron's perceived indifference to the struggles of rural and small-town France.


Causes of deaths on French motorways act as warning to drivers

Causes of deaths on French motorways act as warning to drivers


8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic. Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. Also, for the American readers out there – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!