Concurrency is a bad genre. While the number of people killed on metropolitan roads reached its lowest historic level in 2019, a quarter of the French departments are launched into a controversial operation: returning to the speed limit at 90 km / h on part of their network road, less than two years after the generalization of 80 km / h. Local elected officials plead common sense, while the government sees it as rather dangerous irresponsibility – even if it was by law that this backward step was allowed. Do these departments play with the security of the French? A year ago, the main defender of the lowering of the limitation, the Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, did not hesitate to venture on this ground: “These are decisions that are cumbersome and that we must assume in conscience.”
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On the side of the presidents of departmental council, with the maneuver for the raising of the speed, one affirms registering within the framework of the law, ensuring access to a demand shared by the majority of the administered. But the 2019 road safety figures, released this weekend, came to provide arguments for supporters of the reduction of speed limits. Last year, 3,239 people died on French roads, nine fewer than in 2018, already the best historic year. For the Minister of the Interior, this is the result of a “Proactive policy” … yet battered today.
Why this relaxation?
Entry into force on 1st July 2018, the law limiting the speed to 80 km / h on secondary roads very quickly encountered resistance from the French and their elected representatives, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. The removal of this measure, which is supposed to improve road safety, was brought up during the mobilization of yellow vests. In January 2019, during the great debate, Emmanuel Macron opens the way for an adjustment so that the rule is “Better accepted”. A few months later, Edouard Philippe ends up agreeing with this decision and affirms that he does not see “No downside” that the presidents of the departmental council increase the maximum authorized speed. Published at Official newspaper On December 26, 2019, the Mobility Orientation Law (LOM) sets the new framework. From now on, elected officials may, on departmental roads under their jurisdiction, return to 90 km / h on condition of taking a reasoned decree, after an advisory opinion from the departmental road safety commission (CDSR). First department to take the plunge, that of Haute-Marne, whose president, Nicolas Lacroix (LR), had poured the concrete studs supposed to accommodate the new panels in the summer of 2019. Others followed, at l image of Creuse and Cantal this weekend, while Seine-et-Marne, Deux-Sevres or Herault, have announced plans to iron out certain sections at 90 km / h within the next few months.
What is the balance of the 80 km / h?
In eighteen months, 336 lives saved (1): this is the assessment made by the National Interministerial Observatory for Road Safety (ONISR) to assess the impact of 80 km / h on part of French roads. “This success is not a surprise since it is documented by all international accidentology studies”, noted Emmanuel Barbe, the interministerial delegate responsible for the file. Nilsson’s model, named after a Swedish engineer, poses that a variation of 1% in speed “Translates into a 2% change in the number of bodily injuries and a 4% change in the number of fatal accidents”.
For Emmanuel Barbe, the impact of the transition to 80 km / h was even undermined by the numerous destruction of radars from November 2018 (up to 75% of the fleet damaged at the height of the yellow vests crisis), which increased speed and risky driving. According to him, the effect of speed reduction on journey times is very small, “On the order of a second per kilometer”, according to a simulation covering several pendulum paths. Some elected officials however sweep this satisfaction with the back of their hand. Like Nicolas Lacroix, who claims that in Haute-Marne, “We have not seen any improvement in accidentology since the return to 80 km / h.” Before adding that in his territory, “The car is life. Losing your license is risking losing your job. “
Patrick Septiers, UDI President of the Seine-et-Marne Departmental Council, welcomes the return to a “Much more sensible method of concertation”. It ensures Release that his decision to return to 90 km / h on nearly 500 kilometers of departmental roads was welcomed as a “release” by the inhabitants of the department, where the car “Is sometimes the only mobility solution”. The list of grievances against the 80 km / h is long: “Problem of readability between the different limitations”, “Difficulties with trucks sticking your vehicle”, “Feeling that it is once again the rural world that takes”. For him, more than the waste of time, ultimately minimal, it is above all the feeling of undergoing “A new constraint” which predominates. According to the measure, the number of road fatalities has not dropped significantly. Patrick Septiers even claims that the actual speeds observed on certain sections are increasing, by “92 km / h to 95 km / h on average”. In reality, it is difficult to interpret road safety figures, as the measure is recent and its implementation has suffered from radar damage.
What will be the impact of returning to 90 km / h?
Difficult to say, since with eighteen months of existence, the 80 km / h could not give their full measure. This is the main regret of Anne Lavaud, general delegate of the Association Prevention Routiere: “There was a two-year re-vision clause that was not even respected. This measure was not given the opportunity to prove its effectiveness. In road safety, progress is measured on a generation basis. For the seat belt, it took a while before it became a habit. ”
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Emmanuel Barbe, the interministerial delegate, warns: “When you make that kind of decision to increase the speed limit, you increase the risk. But I hope from the bottom of my heart that the risk will not materialize. “ And to note that finally, quite a few departments seem ready to backtrack … He dismisses the argument of elected officials saying that they will only go back to 90 km / h on the sections of good quality. “The beautiful roads are precisely those that cause the most deaths, note there. Because this is also where the traffic is the most important and where the motorists drive the fastest. “ In theory, the elected officials are supposed to favor sufficiently wide roads, passable on the side, equipped with horns, even not used by agricultural machines. But they keep the last word. In Haute-Marne, the departmental road safety commission issued an unfavorable opinion for 14 of the 15 sectors offered. President Lacroix did not care: all are now ironed at 90 km / h.
(1) This figure of 336 is an estimate made from the very bad figures for 2017 (3,448 dead), before the introduction of 80 km / h.
Sylvain Mouillard Photo Fred Kihn