France Bans Anti-Speed Camera Devices

In a hasty and apparently unpopular move, France has abandoned a soft- touch, do-drive-carefully approach to road safety in favour of a harsh clampdown on electronic alerting devices and ‘delinquent’ drivers.

Cabinet committee meets to toughen road safety. Photo: Yves Malenfer – Matignon

(Read more online French News here)

The changes from an approach where authorities previously sought to co-opt motorists into behaving for the common good to one where they will be heavily penalised, include:

  • the taking down of familiar warning panels located in advance of speed cameras;
  • a ban on in-vehicle speed trap radar detection devices;
  • a crack-down on using mobile phones while at the wheel.

Drivers will also face 1000 new unmarked radars to be deployed by end 2012, increased penalty points and stiffer fines if flashed by the soon-to-be much more inconspicuous roadside radars.

(See this update on the government’s subsquent rowback under pressure)

Furthermore the gendarmerie will soon begin testing a new third generation of mobile radars able to monitor vehicle speeds from an unmarked following car, and semi-mobile or movable cameras on overhead bridges, gantries and at known danger spots.

Visitors planning to drive in France over spring and summer would be well advised to be fully prepared for much tougher policing on and off the motorways, highways and by-ways.

Behind the measures announced by PM François Fillon on Wednesday May 11 is a 20% increase in fatalities on French roads in April.

According to Le Figaro two separate surveys suggest a large majority of those polled oppose the taking down of advance warning panels about speed cameras on roads.

More than two thirds of those questioned (68%) in an IFOP poll are said to be opposed to the removal of warnings about the presence of speed cameras on roads. This rises to 77% for respondents under 35, or 26 points more than the over 65s age group. However, the measures are supported by 41% and 39% respectively of Parisians in the two age groups mentioned. The French are also reportedly 67% against any significant increase in fines for drivers using radar warnings systems on mobile phones or similar devices.

Critics have called the reforms “repressive”, the manufacturers of speed trap locator devices for cars are up in arms and even the League against Road Violence. Ligue contre la violence routière, thinks the announcement was hasty and a sign of “improvisation and ad hoc measures rather than a serious approach to the problem”. Chantal Perrichon, the peppery president of the League said she was “very disappointed” about the moves which will be unlikely to ensure the targets of cutting road deaths next year down to 3,000, are met.

If government thought its moves would be a vote winner, introducing them as it has done, only months before a likely closely-fought presidential contest is set to take place – voting in the two-round election is on April 22 and May 5, 2012 — it may have misjudged.

The flurry of measures has reportedly angered at least 4.7 million of the 40 million French drivers who use the country’s excellent motorway network according to the manufacturers of the three main speed camera locator devices – Coyote, Wikango, and Inforad.

One of the GPS-driven locators, outlawed as from September 2011.

Government said the current practise of telling motorists where speed cameras were positioned on motorways and secondary roads “in fact encourages some drivers to disrespect the speed limits”.

Gone then are the days when electronic traffic signs on secondary roads detecting a speeding driver, would flash them a warning about the current speed limit on the road; or the information panels on motorway gantries, on some sections of a motorway, that tracked speeding offenders and flashed a personalised warning, identifying the offender’s vehicle number plate, to slow down when they were over the limit.

Persuasion says the government is not working, so tough repression will replace it.

But what has really irked the country’s drivers particularly those whose living depends on their licenses — is that without consultation the cabinet meeting outlawed the use of any of the three most popular radar warning systems in use by 4.7 million drivers.

The manufacturers of Coyote, Wikango, and Inforad systems, brand the move “unfair, unwarranted and short-sighted”. Fabien Pierlot, CEO of Coyote told Le Figaro: “The truck drivers, taxi drivers, artisans, and individuals who use our systems … are not criminals”. He insisted that the technology greatly contributed “to safety on our roads. All the research show that radar alarms can increase the vigilance of a driver and help to fight off the risks of drowsiness.” Jean-Georges Schwartz his counterpart at Inforad, said what had greatly angered the industry was the arbitrary nature of the decision “We were not even consulted. Instead overnight we learn of a decision to ban the equipment”. The manufacturers announced they were seeking legal advice on the government decision. Loïc Rattier of Wikango asked: “Can we prohibit these technologies?. Can we really ban a community of users populating their own database, as is the case with Coyote? To ban this type of organisation affects people’s freedoms and right to information”.

The manufacturers’ views were forcibly voiced in this BFMTV report:

Avertisseurs de radars : l’interdiction possible ? par BFMTV

At first glance the measure to suppress speed camera locators seems logical if the aim is indeed to stop the drivers who speed with impunity. Except that “offenders on the road who travel at 180 km/h are hardly the majority,” says Loïc Rattier. “Thousands of motorists every day lose points on their license for a simple careless mistake, exceeding a speeding restriction by just a few kilometres per hour. A sales representative, for example, who is on the road year-round, spending his entire day driving, cannot be expected to keep his eye on the speedometer at all times. This does not mean that he becomes a public danger. Particularly since our products rely on safe driving, far more than on any circumvention of speed cameras. Our hardware displays speed limits and warns the driver when he is exceeding these,” Rattier added.

Furthermore, says Jean-Georges Schwartz, President and founder of Inforad, “the devices warn of traffic jams, accidents, road works, and any other obstacles that may be creating a problem on the road ahead,. Moreover, since 2004 when our equipment was launched, the number of accidents has decreased. In other words, users do not equip themselves to go faster, but on the contrary, they do so, so as not to be caught our by an involuntary moment of excess speed, or, at least a lapse of attention that would otherwise see them lose points on their license. “

The manufacturers were also point quick to the loss of more than 3,000 jobs if the firms were forced to stop production, and to an undermining of leading edge technology where the French currently dominate. Coyote, which has a manufacturing plant in Bayonne claims 2,500 jobs will go.

David Nogueira writing on the 01neton website said: “apart from the locator devices there are millions of GPS users, whose equipment comes pre- installed with information about fixed and mobile radar locations around the country… and a few million more owners of smart phones with dedicated locator applications installed. Are we now going to see police checks on this equipment and the seizure of the earlier in built GPS systems where it is technically difficult to deactivate speed camera alerts incorporated in the equipment? Are law enforcement officers going to be trained to navigate the menus of these GPS and other devices? What about users who have already paid an annual subscription to access these services? Will they be reimbursed? And by whom? The fact that none of these questions have been answered suggests that the government decision was one taken in haste.”

Surprised by the government decision to ban the equipment, Coyote and its competitors have urged all their customers to register their opposition. Within 24 hours of the announcement the industry had set-up an umbrella organisation AFFTAC – the French Association of Providers and Users of Technologies for Driver Assistance (l’Association française des fournisseurs et utilisateurs de technologie d’aide à a conduite) – a name where each word has clearly been carefully chosen and lawyered.

At a press conference Coyote, Inforad and Wikango called for their customers to “mobilize” and join a nationwide protest at lunchtime on May 18 particularly in main cities such as Lille, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Paris. In Paris, the demonstration will be held outside parliament. Customers will be sent full details remotely via the devices and their smartphones.

Nogueira’s report raises other issues about warning systems such as their use on smartphones and on laptops carried in the car. He quotes an unnamed driver as saying: “I do not anticipate that the police will be asking to be allowed to examine my laptop when I’m on the road.” He also suggests enforcing a ban could be problematic. Firstly, the presence of the technology in a car is not immediately evident and if it is based on a smartphone, it is invisible, the mobile only beeps when the car is approaching a speed camera.

In announcing its measures government said the aim was to curb the rise in road deaths. “To help the vast majority of drivers who respect speed limits we are also studying proposals for technologies aimed at better control of vehicle speeds. These include information about speed limits delivered to GPS systems, incentives for installing voluntary speed limiters in cars and similar advances leading to a “safe car” label that will recognize the level of safety equipment contained in a vehicle and in turn offer insurance and similar benefits.”

Government also announced a crack down on drivers abusing alcohol and drugs on the road. “Driving under the influence is the leading cause of death and in 2009, 30% of those killed on the road were involved in an accident where the guilty party was above the legal level of alcohol. Driving while under the influence multiplies by 8 the risk of being involved in a fatal crash and by 14 if the driver has smoked cannabis.

The government announcement also said driving while using a hand-held phone will be more severely punished, giving rise to the loss of three rather than two points on a driver’s license. “In partnership with the mobile phone manufacturers professional and technical solutions will be developed to help restrict phone conversations while driving. A new National Council for Road Safety will also be established”, the government said.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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2 Responses to France Bans Anti-Speed Camera Devices

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