Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

French Drivers: Speed Traps Boosting Revenue, Not Safety

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

French Drivers: Speed Traps Boosting Revenue, Not Safety

Article excerpt

PARIS -- French drivers call it "la guirlande de noel" -- "the Christmas wreath" -- but it heralds anything but good tidings.

Near the town of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, on the Swiss border, an automatic radar detector emits a bright flash like a sparkling Christmas light each time it catches a speeder. And it catches a lot: more than 250,000 in 2011 and 2012, according to French motoring magazine Auto-Plus.

"These radars are just cash machines to fill state coffers," said Laurent Hoff, 39, an engineer who has been "flashed" twice while driving his Renault Scenic minivan above the 50 kilometer-per-hour (30-mph) speed limit. The damage: 90 euros ($122) in fines and two points on his driver's license.

Like Mr. Hoff, many French drivers say it's unfair that they're getting flashed -- from the light of a camera that records offenders' license-tag numbers -- ever more frequently. In the 10 years since the speed traps were introduced by former President Nicolas Sarkozy (during his tenure as interior minister), their number has increased to 4,200 on autoroutes, two-lane highways, and secondary roads nationwide.

The traps have been a resounding success in meeting their original goal of cutting traffic fatalities and countering France's reputation for tolerating wine drinking and reckless driving. Highway deaths fell below 3,700 last year from about 8,000 in 2003, according to the Interior Ministry, which largely credits automatic radar for the change.

Some drivers, though, say the traps' primary focus is no longer safety but revenue as President Francois Hollande seeks to shore up state finances. Automatic radar systems are expected to yield 800 million euros in fines next year, up from 453 million euros in 2007. The speed traps will account for more than half of the total driving and parking fines in France in 2014, according to the Finance Ministry.

The growing anger over the speed traps has spurred the motorist lobbying group "40 millions d'automobilistes" to set up a website called "raconte-moi ton radar," or "tell me about your radar. …

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