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Road safety

Study says French drivers still among EU's worst, alongside Greeks

French police use radar equipment to check speed on A1 motorway in France
French police use radar equipment to check speed on A1 motorway in France PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP

French drivers are consistently dangerous behind the wheel, according to a new study on European behaviour on the road. As families gear up for the summer holidays, Vinci, the company that commissioned the report, has warned that too many risks are being taken, particularly in relation to fatigue, speeding and distractions with mobile devices.

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The motorway management branch of Vinci (Fondation Vinci Autoroutes) published the findings of its annual European Barometre of Responsible Driving on Wednesday, a few days before the French schools close for the summer break.

Some 2,400 French citizens participated in an online survey conducted by Ipsos polling company between 28 February and 9 March 2020 (excluding residents of Corsica).

In total, 12,400 residents in 11 European countries participated in the survey, now in its 10th year.

It looks at drivers' behaviour, how drivers rate themselves and others on the roads, and what they think are the causes of most accidents.

"There are still so many types of behaviour which are really dangerous, so we can't really speak of an improvement in terms of security," Bernadette Moreau, director of the Vinci Autoroutes foundation told AFP.

In France, one out of five people (20 percent) said they become a different person when they get behind the wheel, citing themselves to be more impulsive and aggressive than usual.

The figure is at 16 percent across Europe.

When it came to the Ile de France region (Paris and its suburbs), Vinci reported that 80 percentof drivers swore at other road users – ten percent above the national result.

"Road rage" is unfortunately nothing new, as can be seen in the following video archive from 1957:

The difference is perhaps in the perception of behaviour, and the awareness of dangers, says Moreau.

"Even if drivers are perhaps more aware of their own behaviour, and say they drive well, they tend to judge others more harshly," she explains, pointing to a distinct gap between what the French thought and how they acted.

The study found that 96 percent of French drivers (97 percent of Europeans) used at least one positive adjective to describe their own driving but 89 percent used at least one negative adjective when describing other drivers (+4 since 2019).

Spike in road deaths after lockdown lull 

The Covid-19 lockdown period saw a drop in the number of road deaths and accidents across France as most people were obliged to stay away from work and school.

In April 2020, road deaths dropped by 55.8 percent compared to the same period in 2019 (103 deaths).

However, in May, authorities noted that three weeks after the lifting of lockdown measures (11 May), there was a 15 percent increase in cases of excessive speeding, and a sudden increase in road deaths.

Moreau confirms there was a return to old habits after the easing of lockdown, and cites the dozens of motorway service trucks that were damaged by drivers who lost control.

The study demonstrated that even if French drivers were able to pinpoint the causes of accidents, and recognise their own dangerous behaviour, they continued to take risks, in particular when going on long trips, which 70 percent found to be more stressful than their usual commute.

Here are some of the highlights of the findings.

Fatigue

In terms of fatigue, 83 percent of French drivers said they went to bed late or got up early before a long trip, and the survey showed that the French continued to take the wheel, even if they were tired, with 38 percent of them suggesting they drove the same or better when tired (-5 points).

  • 16 percent (+3 points) said they already had an accident, or nearly had an accident due to nodding off.
  • 28 percent of French drivers considered that it is still possible to drive even while tired (+5 points).

Concentration

  • 74 percent said they took their eyes off the road for a couple of seconds, an indicator that was not present in the 2019 study, and was slightly higher for other Europeans (78 percent).
  • 72 percent declared they didn't respect security distances between cars (- 4 percent). Interestingly enough, 52 percent said not respecting distances between cars was one of the key causes of accidents on motorways.

Distractions

  • 48 percent say they made telephone calls using a Bluetooth system and speakers, slightly lower than the European figure at 50 percent.
  • 27 percent say they read text messages or emails while at the wheel (- 1 percent), compared to 23 percent of Europeans.

Breaking the rules

  • 91 percent of French drivers said they went over the speed limit, even occasionally, compared to 88 percent of other Europeans (this is one point down from the 2019 study).
  • 14 percent said they drank more alcohol than the legal limit but didn't feel the effects (compared to 7 percent of Europeans).

Obnoxious behaviour on the rise

  • 70 percent said they swore/shouted insults at other drivers (+1), compared to 55 percent of Europeans.
  • 87 percent of French drivers said they had been scared by another driver's aggressive behaviour, but only 6 percent saw themselves as aggressive drivers.
  • 18 percent said they got out of their car to swear at another driver during an argument (+2), slightly lower than the rest of Europe, at 20 percent. Comparatively, in Poland, 37 percent of drivers said they would get out of their car to argue with another driver.

French and Greek drivers most aggressive

  • 56 percent said they honked their horn excessively (- 3), compared to 51 percent of Europeans (this jumps to 66 percent with Spanish drivers).
  • 34 percent said they practiced tail-gating (driving very close to the car in front).

When it comes to France's European neighbours, the study found that Greek drivers were at the top of the scale when it came to dangerous and obnoxious behaviour. Forty-seven percent of them admitted to tailgating other drivers, while 70 percent said they swore and shouted insults (on par with the French).

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