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EXPLAINED: What France's return to the 90 km/h speed limit will mean

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EXPLAINED: What France's return to the 90 km/h speed limit will mean
Photo: AFP

The French government could be about to scrap its highly unpopular 80km/h speed limit on secondary roads. Here's a look at what the policy u-turn would mean.


The French government has indicated that it may bow to pressure over the highly unpopular 80 km/h speed limit on secondary roads.
The 80 km/h speed limit on was introduced as a safety measure, but it has proved highly unpopular and is one of the major complaints of the 'yellow vest' movement.
Many of the people living in rural areas in France see the limit as nothing more than a way for the government to make money from them via speeding fines, and speed cameras became a major target for the 'yellow vests' in the early days of the movement.
Here's a look at what a return to the 90 km/h speed limit would mean. 

OPINION: Why the yellow vests are accountable for over 100 deaths in FrancePhoto: AFP

Why has the government decided to make the u-turn?
The new 80km/h limit was French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's iconic measure, which he defended against no small amount of opposition. So it has come as somewhat of a surprise that he is backtracking now.  
But it's fair to say that since the bill was introduced in July 2018, with increasing opposition - including that of the "yellow vest" movement, his stance became more and more difficult to maintain. 
Earlier in the year, in front of 600 mayors, Philippe said he was considering relaxing the law to create "something which will be widely accepted and smarter".
At the end of the Grand Debat, which was announced by French President Emmanuel Macron in response to the "yellow vest" protests, Philippe said: "I wanted to save lives, I was accused of wanting to fill the coffers. I must learn to come to terms with the lack of understanding from my fellow citizens."
On Thursday, when it seemed he was backtracking, he defended himself saying it was "just a change of method" and that "80 km/h remains the norm". 
The announcement comes just ten days before the European elections and some have accused him of "political maneuvering" in an attempt to win round voters in rural areas. 
When will the speed limit change back?
The change is expected to take at least a few months, so don't start putting your foot on the pedal quite yet.
For the time being, secondary roads in France will remain subject to a speed limit of 80 km/h. However, in the future local authorities will have the power to increase this on certain sections of road.
But, before this can happen, the French parliament must approve this amendment to the loi d'orientation des mobilités which is unlikely to happen before the summer. And a road safety expert has revealed to the French press that he thinks it is unlikely the change will be approved without a study being carried out first, which could mean an even longer delay.  
"I would be surprised if the law does not require an impact study to weigh up the effect of this measure," he said. 
How many roads will be affected?
At the moment, it's impossible to predict this. However the speed limit is currently in place on over 400,000 km of French roads.
The departments most in favour of going back to a 90 km/h speed limit are isolated departments in the centre of France, such as Ardeche, Cantal, Corrèze, Creuse and the Dordogne.
Meanwhile, other departments will mull the decision over the next few months. 
What is the impact on road safety likely to be?
Motorists' group “40 millions d'automobilistes”, which had been against the move from the beginning, welcomed "a victory for our organisation and road safety".
But the president of the League Against Road Violence, Chantal Perrichon, believes that the number of accidents and deaths at the wheel will increase because of the decision.
"When the local authorities decide to go back to 90 km/h from 80 km/h, they will make the change on what they call the beautiful straight roads where there is the most traffic, but which are also the most dangerous, and they will pay dearly."
A road safety specialist agreed: "We drive faster on these beautiful roads... and they are three to five times more deadly than others." 
Photo: AFP
Will the speed limit signs need to be replaced (again)? 
Unsurprisingly, yes, it will be necessary to replace the signs in areas when it has been changed back to 90 km/h. 
Rolling out the 80 km/h speed limit resulted in an average of 100 signs changing in each department - at no small cost to the taxpayer. 
According to the French government, the replacement of the 20,000 "90 km/h" signs cost between €6 and €12 million. 
Will it be necessary to update the GPS navigators?
This will be necessary this time round just as it was when the speed limit changed to 80 km/h last year. 
For people with the most recent models of cars with an in-built GPS system, you probably won't have to change anything. It's likely your vehicle is equipped with a system for recognizing speed limit signs and will display the correct speed limit on the screen in your car. 
If you drive an older vehicle with an in-built GPS you'll have to carry out an update. This can be done by the company who sold you your car or by ordering a DVD with the updates - just make sure the seller is legitimate. 
Newer models may have a connected GPS meaning the update can be done remotely or via a download from a computer. 
If you use a GPS box, it will probably display the right speed limit. However, it's probably worth checking.
Meanwhile, on GPS apps like Google Maps and Apple Plans, the update will be done automatically. You just have to be vigilant and report any errors you come across. 


Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2019/05/31 22:21
And also in the "good old" USA, virtually NO requirement exists anywhere for ANY driver to ever receive any actual "training" in HOW TO DRIVE A CAR. For that would "take away our individual rights" (to be dangerous smug IDIOTS behind 4,000 behemoths for our entire life span). And unfortunately, Darwin usually takes far too long (so such idiots breed more AND "teach them" how to drive), and also "Darwin" kills many innocent victims of such "drivers." But . . . "mah rights . . . " prevails over any sense whatsoever.
Anonymous 2019/05/19 15:04
M. Philippe talks down to the French people. I have to wonder if he has spent any significant time on French roads. The issue is not 80 versus 90 km.hour, rather bad behavior by French drivers. It's worth noting that France is in the middle of OECD accident statistics per kilometer driven. Sweden and UK are the best in terms of safety. The British are equally obsessed with cameras as the French. The United States is at the bottom of the OECD statistics. I find US drivers more dangerous than French ones. I don't feel safe in the US or France but for different reasons. At least the French are pretty good at car control and thanks to Controle Technique you don't have to worry about bad ball joints cause loss of vehicle control.<br /><br />On my way back from a weekend of driving at the Race track I barely avoided a head on collision. The other driver started passing in a turn and wasn't able to see me. Luckily for both of us I managed to avoid contact. <br /><br />If the French gov. was interested in saving lives it should start with following: rules are there for a reason, public roads are not intended for competition and/or speeding, turn signals are important, following too close is dangerous, roundabouts are not meant to block other drivers.

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