Drivers seethe as France lowers speed limit on vacation highway

Paris: The Nationale 7 holds a cherished place in France’s popular culture as the Vacation Highway, leading generations of families south toward summer holidays on the Riviera before multi-lane motorways became the norm.
So when officials chose three stretches of the road back in 2015 to test lowering the speed limit to 80 kilometres per hour from 90, they surely knew they would rankle motorists. Three years later some drivers have swung behind the change, but many others are still fuming.
“Yesterday I was going at 80 and it felt like I was going to fall asleep,” said Gerard Laguette, a local business owner in Croze-Hermitage, referring to the lower limit while driving on a 20 kilometre run to Valence in southeast France.
Such complaints — and opinion polls showing 74 per cent of respondents against the move — haven’t stopped President Emmanuel Macron from pushing ahead with a countrywide rollout of the lower speed limits starting on Sunday.
Officials say it’s the only way to reverse an alarming rise in road deaths, which reached 3,684 last year.
The 80 km/h limit on 400,000 km of two-lane roads with no separating guardrail — often lined with trees in many parts of the country — aims to save 400 lives a year while also reducing auto emissions by
30 per cent.
But critics deride the measure as “Paris snobbery” and the latest proof that Macron is the “president of the rich” with little regard for the concerns of ordinary voters.
The lower speed limit is widely seen as an easy way to fill state coffers with more tickets. The government “prefers tech-savvy city cyclists to country people driving diesels,” Vincent Descoeur, an opposition Republicans lawmaker, said in parliament this month.
The government launched TV and radio campaigns to try to quell motorists’ anger, saying the new limits would add only a few minutes to most trips while cutting a driver’s petrol costs by 120 euros ($140) a year.
A 10 kilometre trip, for example, would take 45 seconds longer, or just two minutes more for 25 kilometres.
“The goal is not to *** people off,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday, reiterating that he was ready “to live with being unpopular”. He said a similar reduction on the Paris ring-road a few years ago led to an 18 percent drop in accidents.
He also has promised that any spike in speeding fines will be allocated to caring for car crash victims.
Yet some local officials have vowed they won’t put up the new signs, even though Philippe has promised to reimburse municipalities for the expected total cost of 6-12 million euros. The president of the Hautes-Alpes department said he would make up the lost time for drivers by lifting the 70 km/h limit on some particularly twisty sections of roads in his mountainous region. — AFP