Backtrack on Speed Camera Warning Devices

The centre right government’s hasty U-turn on a hugely unpopular road safety crackdown is now complete; with an announcement that speed camera tracking equipment will not after all be outlawed in vehicles or on mobiles and other hand-held devices.

Hasty U-turn on removing these signs as government deputies warn of electoral thrashing

Instead the makers will “convert” their trackers into devices that warn of “danger zones”.

Road safety organisations are concerned that the deal is merely a way of calling  radar warning equipment by another name, an idea the government firmly rejects.

Pierre Bienvault reporting in the Catholic newspaper La Croix says an agreement was reached Friday, May 27, between Interior Minister Claude Gueant and manufacturers represented by AFFTAC (French Association of Suppliers and Users of Driving Assistance Technologies), the umbrella lobbying body. The deal means that the speed camera warning devices would in future become assistants d’aide à la conduite or “driving assistance devices” , a technology that aims to help road users “report dangerous areas”.

Perhaps not unexpectedly road safety associations immediately wanted to know the difference between assistants d’aide à la conduite and avertisseurs de radars or speed trap warning systems, but the government was not expanding on what is clearly a Solomonic solution.

Instead the department said in a statement that advisory speed cameras would be placed on routes that were accident-prone, or hazardous and, in the ministry’s words, “help motorists to adjust speed so that they drive in accordance with road conditions and limitations”.

“This is no row back “, Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, insisted in a statement to the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

Nevertheless road safety organisations were taking the deal with a large grain of salt. “We think this may be a good thing if via data supplied by State agencies, the agreement allows manufacturers of these devices to alert motorists about changes in speed limits that may occur along a route. But we must put an end to the possibility, that these systems are used to warn other road users equipped with them that speed cameras lie ahead,” said Jean-Yves Salaün, general secretary of L’association Prévention Routière, who made clear no one doubted the “power of the manufacturers’ lobby”.

Chantal Perrichon, of the Ligue Contre La Violence Routière said: “We must ensure that the manufacturers undertake not to allow users to report fixed or mobile speed camera controls”.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there is no question of this being merely a change in a name. “The deal means these devices will help motorists as they drive, but in no way, will these systems be allowed to pass on information warning of the presence of fixed and mobile radars,” a spokesman told La Croix . “The zones dangereuses or dangerous areas are accident-prone areas, not necessarily those where there are speed cameras,” Secretary of State for Transport Thierry Mariani told the paper.

Thus from an earlier position of firm insistence that there would be no row back on measures announced — removal of speed camera warning panels; banning in-vehicle speed trap warning devices; cracking-down on driver use of mobile phones — Interior Minister Claude Gueant has crumbled at a speed that would undoubtedly have resulted in four points on his licence if he had been in the driving seat.

Earlier faced with threats of fresh motorway escargots, driver blockades of major cities, a million signatures decrying the measures and deputies warning of mass voter defections, the Interior Minister had wobbled.

Just a week after boldly insisting there would be no U-turns on road safety, the government caved in albeit at first only partially.

Initially M. Gueant had firmly told parliament, that the measures announced were here to stay.

However he reckoned without the French manufacturers of radar warning equipment lobby, the voters and nervous fellow MPs.

For AFFTAC (French Association of Suppliers and Users of Driving Assistance Technologies) an umbrella body set up by Wikango, Coyote and Inforad, world leaders in the GPS tracking technology and detection software used by the devices, mobilised their 4.7 million domestic customer base and made clear to government that a massive show of displeasure would take place on French roads on June 2, the national Ascension day holiday.

According to Midi Libre some 80 deputies from the governing UMP party May 23 wrote Prime Minister François Fillon to express “the deep frustration” of “thousands” of voters who had contacted their MPs to lobby for a policy reversal.

The Internet and Facebook had been abuzz with insurrection for days and several different petitions are in circulation, among them this one with 39,209 signatories at the time of writing.

Users of in-car radar detection services gathered to show solidarity at the Coyote store, 19, Avenue de la Grande Armée, in Paris.

A report on this website said AFFTAC had described the measures as “unjust and indiscriminate” and insisted that research showed that in-vehicle warning systems do not increase accidents but help make the roads safer. AFFTAC set up a Facebook page which so far has been ‘liked’ by 190,623 people.

An Ifop survey for Sud Ouest Dimanche suggested that two thirds of the population (68%) were opposed to the removal of the panels warning motorists of a fixed speed camera ahead.

As the clamour grew MPs scurried around parliament bending ministerial ears and warning of rising anger in the country. Motorists they said, were convinced the changes were designed for one purpose only to turn the speed cameras into ATM machines for the Treasury.

On May 19 Jean Auclair, UMP député for the Creuse, told Libération : “If we push ahead with this, we lose the elections! “

A turning point had been reached and five days later Philippe Meunier spokesman for the UMP group in l’Assemblee Nationale brought his colleagues the good news, the Minister had caved in.

Claude Gueant went on national radio and television to announce that the ongoing removal of signs warning of speed cameras ahead, had been suspended until “local consultations” had been held in each affected area.

Consider yourself warned this time!

He said the warning panels would be replaced by “advisory speed cameras” located in advance of all fixed speed cameras. These would flash a warning about the current speed limit and in more sophisticated models show the passing drivers speed and if in excess the number of points he could lose and the size of the fine he could pay. Similar “advisory cameras” are to be installed in areas where no penalty cameras are in place, in a campaign to educate motorists to stay within the limits. All the new cameras will collect data on how many motorists exceed the limit. This data will enable the highway authority to determine black spots where repressive measures need be taken.

“Thirty six warnings panels across France have been removed so far”, the minister said, but “as of today no more will go before there has been a local consultation”.

Welcoming the announcement M. Meunier said these “common-sense measures” corresponded with the views of a large number of deputies on government benches whose constituents had made very clear where they would vote if the changes went ahead.

However there remains one lobby that has not yet been satisfied – motor bikers are opposed to demands that they increase the size of their number plates and wear high viz yellow jackets while riding. So Ascension Day may still be marked by motorbikers on an escargot.

Watch BFMTV’s clip reporting on the outcry against the initial speed trap measures:

Story: Ken Pottinger

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