The new study by Sanef, a private company responsible for operating French motorways, shows that French drivers are increasingly irresponsible behind the wheel.
The news is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to foreigners in France who have long complained of “aggressive drivers” who see “tailgating as a national habit”.
“It's an explosive cocktail!” Fabrice Hamelin, a researcher in transport safety at the University of Créteil, told Ouest France.
“The phone is clearly an important distraction factor, which doubles the risk of an accident. Add this to the rise in tailgating, which shortens your reaction time, and there is a much higher risk,” he said.
A total of 43 percent of motorists drive above the speed limit, according to the report, representing the highest levels of speeding since 2012.
The reports shows that 43 percent of motorists drive above the authorised speed of between 130km/h and 150km/h, with four percent of drivers exceeding 150km/h compared to three percent the previous year.
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“For the past few months, police were perhaps otherwise occupied, which could have created a sense of impunity,” Pascal Contremoulins, head of road safety at Sanef, told BFM.
“However when a driver is going too fast, they do not have the means to react if a problem occurs in front of him, because the incident is masked by the car in front. One accident in five on the motorway is a multi-vehicle collision, that is to say it involves more than two cars ,” said Contremoulins.
In addition to speeding, the report revealed that a total of six percent of French motorists are using their phones while driving on the motorway, compared to four percent in 2015.
That figure shoots up when it comes to observing the behaviour of truck drivers, 15 percent of whom drive with their phones in hand.
“Fifteen percent of fatal accidents on the motorway are due to inattentiveness,” said Contremoulins, adding that motorists have not yet fully realised how dangerous it is to use their phones when behind the wheel.
In 2016, an An American study showed that sending a text message while driving multiplied the chances of an accident by 23 percent and the rise of smartphones has led to an increase in people using their devices on the roads.
The French police revealed to BFM that 800 offenses involving the phone had been recorded each day during the month of June.
More generally, the Sanef report showed that motorists are more relaxed on the motorway.
“We feel safe on the motorway network, which results in behaviors that are not necessarily the right ones,” said Contremoulins.
But despite the rise in dangerous behaviour, highway mortality is at one of the lowest rates recorded, with 157 killed on French motorway in 2018.
In 2017, more than 160 people died on French motorways.