French vow to cut road deaths in half

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The Independent Online
The French government has tough plans to halve the number of road deaths in France in five years. John Lichfield in Paris says a proposed law would jail anyone convicted twice within 12 months of dangerous speeding.

Your chances of dying in a road accident double as soon as you cross the Channel. For every million vehicles, 300 people die on the French roads each year, compared to 140 in Britain.

The carnage has been much reduced in the past two decades. France is no longer the most murderous place to drive in Europe (try Greece, Portugal, Ireland or Belgium).

But 8,000 deaths a year is still an awful lot of grief and suffering - the equivalent of 50 large plane crashes.

Jean-Claude Gayssot, the Communist transport minister and a former railwayman, has set an ambitious new target. He wants to reduce the number of road deaths to 4,000 a year by the year 2002.

His programme includes a draconian measure to discourage speeding, which is responsible for almost half the deaths on French roads. A draft law will be placed before the National Assembly next year which would impose a three-month driving ban and a pounds 1,000 fine on anyone breaking the speed limit by more than 50 kph (roughly 30 miles per hour).

Any motorist convicted of the same offence within one year could be jailed. In other words, anyone caught travelling at 112 mph on the autoroute, or 60 mph in an urban area, twice within a year, would risk going to prison.

Mr Gayssot also plans - voluntarily to begin with - to send French motorists back to driving school. Young drivers will be encouraged to attend refresher courses after a year, and all drivers after 10 years. At first, the courses will be optional

but the minister warned yesterday that he would make them compulsory if driving standards did not improve. The courses will, among other things, focus on the two other most common causes of road deaths in France: drink driving (1,300 deaths a year) and failure to fasten seat-belts (700 deaths a year).

In the case of the best-known road accident in France this year (at the Pont de L'Alma in Paris on 31 August), all three of the most commonly fatal factors were present.

The Mercedes carrying the Princess of Wales was travelling at three times the urban speed limit; the driver, Henri Paul, had consumed almost three times the legal drink limit; and the three people who died were not wearing their seat-belts.