Protesting truck-drivers 'snail up' roads

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The Independent Online
PARIS - French truck-drivers, protesting against a new system of driving licence endorsements, blocked roads yesterday as the tourist season went into full swing, writes Julian Nundy.

Reports from all parts of France said that motorways and other trunk roads were unusable, either because of out-and-out roadblocks or 'snail operations' - deliberate snail-pace driving in all road lanes by truck- drivers. Paul Quiles, the Interior Minister, has threatened to withdraw the licences of the drivers involved, if protests continue.

Some British holidaymakers were affected as soon as they drove off ferries. One coachload of 55 Britons, including a baby and 20 other children, has been stuck in a service station south of Paris since Monday. French police have warned British drivers not to attempt journeys in France. The AA said trips should be delayed for a day or an alternative route sought.

Near the northern city of Lille, about 300 foreign trucks and another 200 French lorries driven by non-union members were halted by the protests. The protests followed farmers' action earlier in the week which also blocked many roads. In addition, a pilots' strike at the Air Inter domestic airline went into its second day, disrupting about a fifth of the airline's routes.

The new 'points' licence system, which went into effect yesterday, is similar to that already used in Britain and other European countries. An accumulation of six points in three years brings an automatic six-month suspension. Until now, any number of minor offences could be punished by fines or suspensions of as little as one week. Under the new French system, a speeding offence earns one point while drunken driving or leaving the scene of an accident earn a maximum three points. The truck-drivers' unions maintain that the system will especially affect professional drivers.

Georges Sarre, the junior transport minister, who introduced the system, has pledged to bring down France's accident statistics at least to the level of Germany and preferably to that of Britain, where the number of deaths per head of population is roughly half. Much of the problem in France is weak policing. Although seat- belts were made obligatory in 1978, many drivers still do not use them, especially in towns, and police tend to turn a blind eye.

For France, the snarled-up roads and disrupted air traffic signalled a normal start to the summer tourist season. In earlier years, farmers' protests would have blocked the roads while air traffic controllers' disputes would have filled the departure lounges with waiting passengers. This year's variations at least had some novelty value.

(Photograph omitted)