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ANALYSIS: How much will the new 30km/h speed limit really change Paris?

Monday marks the introduction of a 30km/h speed limit for most of Paris. So what do locals make of the new rules and - in a city renowned for endless traffic jams - how much of a difference will this really make? Sam Bradpiece went to find out.

ANALYSIS: How much will the new 30km/h speed limit really change Paris?
Much of Paris is now a 30 km/h zone. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The Paris mayor has greatly extended the 30km/h (18mph) speed limit zones so that they now cover most streets, with the exception only of large avenues like the Champs-Elysées and the city ringroad.

The mayor’s office say the new rule is aimed at reducing accidents and noise pollution while “adapting” the city for the fight against climate change. 

“It is a safety measure,” said deputy mayor David Belliard speaking on Franceinfo radio on Monday morning. “You must remember that the great majority of serious or fatal accidents in Paris come from cars or heavy goods vehicles.

“This measure is part of a coherent policy of transformation of the public space – a policy that favours so-called ‘soft’ modes of mobility like walking, cycling and public transport, to the detriment of cars, which we would like to reserve only for essential use.” 

The mairie plans to ban most types of private motoring from the central arrondissements of the city from next year.

So will the new measures be enforced, will it make much difference to the famously traffic-choked city and how do residents feel about it?

The city’s périphérique ringroad is one of the exceptions to the new 30 km/h and remains, for now, a 50 kmh zone. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Support

Ymen Sambe has had countless bad experiences on the roads of the French capital.

“Paris is full of crazy drivers. I was on an electric scooter once and a car rammed me from the side. I didn’t have any serious injuries, but I was left really shocked,” she said.

The 21-year-old student is among the many Parisians backing the expansion of the 30km/h zones. Prior to this, only 60 percent of the city’s roads were subject to such a restriction.

“I am not a driver so my judgement is probably a bit biased but in terms of safety for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as air and noise pollution, it can only be a good thing,” said Chloe Maillard, a 27-year-old consultant living in the capital.

A consultation of close to 6,000 people conducted by City Hall, from October 2020 to November 2020, found that 59 percent of Parisians supported the proposed changes.

A more recent survey by the pollsters IFOP for MisterTurbo.com, found that 61 percent of Parisians were in favour of the new measure, with 71 percent believing that it would be beneficial for the most vulnerable road users.

Enforcement

It remains unclear how stringently the speed limit will be enforced. City Hall said there would be a brief period of ‘tolerance’, but that enforcement ultimately rests in the hands of the police, who have yet to reply to The Local’s request for comment.

According to the local transport statistics agency, the current average speed when driving in central Paris between 7am and 9pm is 11.6 km/h, and 30.9 km/h on the ring road.

The City Authorities believe that implementation of the measure will lead to a 25 percent decrease in the number of road accidents and a 40 percent decrease in those considered serious and fatal.

According to the World Health Organisation the risk of death to a pedestrian hit by a car is 80 percent at 50km/h but just 10 percent at 30km/h.

“There are lots of people who come into hospitals with road traffic injuries,” said Trudy Bouadé, a trainee doctor conducting Covid-19 tests next to Bassin de la Villette in Paris. “Surely this limit is a good thing if it saves lives.”

The City has also argued that expanding the 30km/h limit will cut noise pollution on the roads in half.

Protests

But not everyone is happy with the measure. “The arguments given by the City Hall are false and fallacious,” said François Vallin, President of Rouler Libre a Paris-based automobile association.

“The more we reduce speed, the more there will be traffic jams. There will be more noise and pollution.”

For Villan, the measure reeks of elite metropolitan virtue signalling. “We have understood that this is just an attempt by the Mayor to win votes at the Presidential election by trying to appear ecological.”

Hidalgo is widely considered to be planning a run for the presidency in 2022, but has not officially declared as a candidate.

The new limit has also exposed a divide between city-dwelling Parisians and Franciliens – residents of the wider Île-de-France region which also includes the Paris suburbs. According to the 2020 consultation from the City Hall, 61 percent of Franciliens were opposed to the new limits.

“Most people who use the roads in Paris come from outside the city. Paris does not belong to the Parisians. It belongs to everyone who uses the roads,” said Vallin, who also highlighted official figures showing that in 2018, only 16 percent of road traffic accidents in Paris were caused by speeding.

Some think the next step will be to ban cars altogether.

“What is the point in having a car? Even electric scooters can now go faster,” said Paris-based baker, Zeimeb Lounissi, who sold her car after learning that the 30km/h speed limit would be implemented more widely.

Rouler Libre plans to launch legal action against the City in September and has planned a protest near the Chateau de Vincennes, just outside of Paris, on Sunday.

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DRIVING

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!

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