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DRIVING

France’s speed camera cars: Where are they and how can you spot them?

The Local answers your questions about the private 'speed camera vehicles' in circulation across France, as well as where you are most likely to be flashed by them.

France's speed camera cars: Where are they and how can you spot them?
(Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

In addition to fixed cameras and gendarmes operating speed checks, there is another way that speeding drivers can be caught in France – the so-called ‘radar cars’. 

In 2015, the French government began gradually transferring the operation of speed camera cars from police to private companies, and in an interview with the Le Parisien, France’s new head of road safety, Florence Guillaume revealed that at the start of 2023 there were 381 mobile radar cars in circulation on French roads.

Who is operating this type of vehicle?

Of the 381 vehicles, 223 were, as of January 6th, being operated by private companies, and the remaining 158 cars were being driven by law enforcement. Those vehicles being driven by law enforcement will eventually entrusted to private companies.

Where are they being operated?

According to 20-minutes, 59 French départements have no speed camera vehicles – these départements are mostly in the south, centre-east and Paris area. 

As for France’s other 39 départements most operations take place in the north-west. In 2021, the vehicles captured over 400,000 cars speeding in the Manche and Îlle-et-Vilaine départements, compared with 8,000 in Haute-Marne.

The cars will eventually be operated across France.

As for the types of roads, 71 percent of tickets issued by the speed camera vehicles were for roads with a maximum speed of 70 km/h, and 26 percent were on roads going up to 90 km/h, with only a tiny proportion of tickets issued on autoroutes.  

How can I recognise the cars?

While some vehicles are operated by gendarmes and police and are therefore marked, many are run by private companies who operate unmarked cars. For this reason, it is not possible to say exactly which make or model drivers should expect to see.

If you are caught speeding by one of these vehicles, you likely will not see a flash. Instead, you will receive your fine in the mail. 

READ MORE: Driving in France: What are the offences that cost you penalty points on your French licence?

What is the goal of the speed camera cars?

Guillaume explained to Le Parisien that the intention is for the entire fleet of radar cars to eventually be “transformed into outsourced driving mode” to free up time for law enforcement officers so they can focus on other tasks, such as alcohol and drug testing drivers potentially under the influence.

Eventually, the vehicles will be able to “operate for six to even eight hours.” Currently, they operate for an average of an hour and a half. 

In theory, the cars are intended to be deployed on routes with high accident rates to help encourage an “overall reduction in speed,” Guillaume explained to Le Parisien.

How effective are they?

In 2021, the radar vehicles counted 538,000 speeding offences in the French départements where the vehicles are in operation.

The radar in these cars is intended to target drivers who are speeding well-above the limit. Thus, the technical margin is 10km/h, for speed limits below 100 km/h, and a margin of 10 percent for speed limits above 100km/h. In comparison, fixed speed cameras have a margin of five percent for such roads.

How do motorists feel about them?

The head of the League to Defend Drivers (Ligue de défense des conducteurs), Alexandra Legendre, denounced the road safety plans, telling Le Parisien that the safety policy would “essentially trap drivers who were going only one to two kilometres over the speed limit.” Legendre added that the vehicles will be an “additional stress factor for the French, who are, for the most part, far from being ‘mademen’ behind the wheel.”

Others, like the head of the “40 Millions d’Automobilistes” group, Pierre Chasseray, have decried the plans to outsource operations of these cars to private entities. “We should not put a road safety weapon in the hands of private companies whose drivers will have no way of stopping a driver acting recklessly on the road in front of them.”

READ MORE: France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

However, some defend the use of the mobile cameras, like the president of The League against Road Violence, Jean-Yves Lamant, who expressed his support for the vehicles during an interview with Le Parisien.

“The number one factor in fatal [road] accidents is speeding, so we must do everything we can to fight this scourge,” Lamant said.

Lamant added that France has recommitted itself to halve the number of road deaths by 2030, and in his view this can only be achieved by “adopting a whole series of effective measures, including speed cameras.”

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MONEY

Timbre fiscal: Everything you need to know about France’s finance stamps

If you're doing a French admin task, you might be asked to provide a 'timbre fiscale' - here's what these are and how to get them.

Timbre fiscal: Everything you need to know about France's finance stamps

In France, you can buy  a very particular kind of stamp to cover the cost of a titre de séjour, or French passport, to pay your taxes, get an ID card if you’re eligible, or pay for your driving licence.

Basically a timbre fiscale is a way of paying a fee to the government, and some online processes – such as the tax offices – now have the more modern method of a bank transfer or card payment.

However there are plenty of official tasks that still demand a timbre fiscale.

In the pre-internet days, this was a way of sending money safely and securely to the government and involved an actual physical stamp – you bought stamps to the value of the money you owned, stuck them onto a card and posted them to government office.

They could be used for anything from paying your taxes to fees for administrative processes like getting a new passport or residency card.

These days the stamps are digital. You will receive, instead, either a pdf document with a QR code that can be scanned from a phone or tablet, or an SMS with a unique 16-digit figure. Both will be accepted by the agency you are dealing with.

Once you have the code you need, you can add this to any online process that requires timbre fiscaux (the plural) and that will complete your dossier.

You can buy them from a properly equipped tabac, at your nearest trésorerie, or online

Paper stamps remain available in France’s overseas départements, but have been gradually phased out in mainland France.

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