Genuine concern now as the death toll on French roads runs out of control and the government seems stumped for answers. But no-one is asking whether drivers are diverting off safe but expensive motorways in favour of much riskier regional roads.
Plus, SSK stars in next year’s Mercedes-Benz Classic calendar and, a roundup of the week’s bizarre news: brazen Porsche vandal hands himself in to Prague police; Finnish police quandary over racist road side banner; and, friendly locals save tourist car in Istanbul as romantic highway gesture backfires.
FRANCE LOSING CONTROL OF ROAD SAFETY
Death rate accelerates as government scrabbles for solutions.
The French government is reduced to appealing to drivers’ better nature as it fights a losing battle on road safety.
The death toll reached 360 in July, up 19.2% on the same month last year.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said today, ‘I must say seriously, to all the people who take to the road, they must be exemplary and responsible.’
He thinks the root causes of accidents are ‘obviously’ related to inappropriate behavior by road users.
Last month’s figures show the death rate is now accelerating. In the first seven months of this year, road deaths are up 3.8% compared to the same period in 2014.
Last year was the first year road deaths increased in more than a decade, by 3.4% overall.
Trucks drivers were the only group to see fatalities fall in July according to Securite Routiere. The rise was especially severe among motorbike riders, up 57% to 105 deaths, and the over-65s, up 64% to 82 deaths.
The numbers are still to be fully analysed but the recent heatwave has certainly brought more bikers onto the roads while cheaper fuel has also encouraged people to use their cars.
The question now is what can be done to turn the situation around.
Cazeneuve said most of the 26 measures announced earlier this year, on the back of last year’s results, have now been implemented.
However, few of those – which include reducing the blood alcohol content for young drivers, banning earpieces at the wheel and experimenting with 80kmh speed limits at accident hotspots – has any real bite.
The only measure to have a significant impact on road safety in France in recent years were the unmarked speed camera cars introduced in March 2013.
Deaths immediately fell by nearly 30% but quickly regained their former levels as it became apparent the numbers of camera cars on the road were relatively low.
The government paid the price for that success with last year’s figures but, as deaths continue to rise, it shows there are fundamental causes still to be addressed.
One possibility apparently not under discussion is that drivers increasingly divert off autoroute motorways to avoid road tolls, and thereby put themselves at greater risk.
Figures published earlier this month by autoroute operators’ association ASFA showed that autoroutes are five times safer than other roads.
A row over high road tolls between the government and operators was settled earlier this year, without any cuts to the charges.
Cazeneuve says the focus from now on will be on prevention. Around 14,000 traffic police are now on the roads each weekend (far below the 22,000 on duty over New Year however).
To further consider the next steps, the Interministerial Committee for Road Safety – chaired by Prime Minister Manuel Valls – will meet in the autumn, for the first time since 2011.
Update 7 September 2015: Cazeneuve did also say fatal road accidents had risen by 7% across Europe. New figures suggest he might have a point.
BIZARRE. Helpful locals were left sitting on the bonnet of a tourist’s hire car – to stop it tipping into the Bosphorus – after the sightseer parked up in Besiktas to visit a museum but didn’t engage the handbrake properly (see the video, via Hurriyet Daily). Meanwhile another man in Istanbul brought traffic to a halt on the major D-100 highway in Bahcelievler in order to propose to his girlfriend, but ended up having his licence confiscated, and maybe even in court. The man who was caught on high definition CCTV excruciatingly scratching a rock right around the outside of a parked up Porsche 911 in Prague at the weekend has handed himself in to police, and could face a year in jail. His female companion is still at large (see the shock footage at Prague Post). It took Finnish police three days to remove a ‘racist’ roadside barrier because ‘nobody complained’ according to Yle News. The hoarding, on the road between Ylojarvi and Nokia near Tampere in the south west, asked what the difference was between humans and animals with the answer being ‘the Mediterranean’. Police initially insisted they needed an official complaint to take it down but eventually relented. Now it transpires they may need to put it back if – as one legal expert claims – no offence has been committed.