Champagne, the Eiffel Tower, or the French Riviera might spring to mind as things quintessentially French. Speed cameras probably don't make the list, but French drivers are well acquainted with les radars, the automated enforcement devices used in the nation's crackdown on speeding.
Up to 2,000 cameras pepper the 985,000-kilometer (610,700-mile) road network. The program was put in place under former French President Jacques Chirac, who declared a "fight against road violence" targeting speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, nonuse of safety belts, and other violations. With speeding identified by French officials as the No. 1 cause of traffic fatalities, speed cameras became the centerpiece of the enforcement efforts. The program continues apace under President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Between 2003 and 2005, the proportion of drivers traveling 10 km/h (6 mph) or more above the speed limit fell to 20 percent from 35 percent, while the number of drivers exceeding the limit by more than 30 km/h (18 mph) tumbled 80 percent, according to the European Transport Safety Council. Average speeds fell 5 km/h (3 mph). The Brussels-based group notes that France is the only European Union country to lower average speeds on all types of roads by 6 to 11 percent since 2002.
Along with speeds, highway fatalities fell 31 percent between 2003 and 2005. Improved speed management based on camera use is credited for 75 percent of the decline, the French Road Safety Observatory reports. Deaths slid an additional 12 percent in 2006 compared with the previous year.
Millions of speeders have been ticketed. As of October 2006, 18 million penalty notices had been issued. Two million were sent out during 2004, the first full year of camera operation. Speeders are fined, and they risk losing their licenses as points are deducted with each offense. Camera locations are clearly marked, and a website pinpoints every enforcement site.
"France gives us a great example of what can be accomplished when there's a focused, nationwide effort to target speed violators," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. "The combination of automated enforcement, license points, and fines makes France's program extremely successful. This shows that when it comes to reducing speed violations and saving lives on the road, automated enforcement is effective."
Surveys show 80 percent of French drivers support the cameras and believe they have reduced speeds and improved safety, the Ministry of Transport reports.