Yesterday the French government announced that the number of deaths on French roads increased in November 2009 compared to the same month in 2008. This bad news coincided with a report from an insurance company that showed that the French were the most dangerous drivers in Europe. The report was based on how many people admitted to driving over the speed limit, passing traffic lights on amber (orange) etc.
There has been a huge increase in recent years of speed cameras and mobile patrols, but this doesn’t seem to affect the way people drive. GPS devices help drivers identify where the speed traps are, so they can happily drive over the limit in the places where they know there is none.
When I lived in Aix-en-Provence, I was shocked at how many people would drive past the pedestrian crossing outside my children’s school when the lights were red, and would even accelerate when the light was amber to avoid having to stop. On a children’s crossing! This blatant disregard for human life should be punished heavily, but in France such behaviour seems to be acceptable.
Is this just another example of the French paradox, that the French are normally courteous, cultured, sophisticated, but behind the wheel of a car the become worse than Italians or Greeks (who we believe to be bad drivers)? Or are we British just over-sensitive in a world that is full of unavoidable dangers anyway? I’ll admit that perhaps we’ve taken safety to extreme levels, to the point of suffocation, but I feel I have the right to get angry when the lives of my own children are at risk.
How can we explain the differences in attitudes between northern, Germanic or Scandinavian people and the southern Mediterranean people? I’d be happy to hear your comments, whether you are French, African, North American, or even British!