Posted by: Jerry Garrett | April 1, 2019

Yellow Vest Vandals Attack 75 Percent of France’s Hated Speed Cameras

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This vandalized speed camera, in Corsica, has a snotty warning from the gilets jaunes for French president Macron (CNN)

NICE, France

The French government admitted this week that 75 percent of the country’s nearly 3,300 speed cameras have been vandalized. The destruction, a separate agency confirmed, has to date cost government tax collectors more than 209 million euro ($235 million).

The figures are notable, for two reasons: First, as recently as December, only a few hundreds of the cameras had been damaged, according to the government (which had been trying officially to minimize public concern over the carnage); now, it is confirmed over 2,500 of them have been attacked. Second, the government hadn’t released a monetary figure on lost revenue until now, other than to say the losses were “in the millions.”

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Arbitrarily lowering speed limits from 90 kph to 80 last year helped spur the yellow vest reactions (BBC)

Search the internet for speed camera vandalism. There’s no shortage of photos of camera boxes that have been crashed into, duct-taped blind, shrink-wrapped, spray-painted, even blown up. Near me, someone with a backhoe dug one up, and dumped it in a ravine.

Who’s responsible? The yellow vest, or gilets jaunes, protesters and their sympathizers. No question. No debate about this. Also, no shortage of suspects.

French motorists – millions of them – hate speed cameras, and the many other tricks and traps the government uses to try and extract revenue from them. They hate them even more, since the government arbitrarily lowered speed limits from 90 kph to 80 last year, in what was widely seen as a way to extract even more fines from drivers. (The government lamely cites “increasing” traffic mortality rates as a justification, and cocked-up “public opinion polls” claiming support for the lower limits.)

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Gilets jaunes aren’t shy about who is vandalizing speed cameras (The Independent)

Undaunted in their pursuit of revenue off the backs of motorists, the French government says it will start replacing the destroyed speed cameras with radar machines, which they say will be harder to destroy. We will see.

When the yellow vest protests broke out last year, official explanations were vague about the causes behind the increasingly violent protests. “Economic disparity” came to be blamed. But the trigger for such intense public anger was the French government’s war on the automobile and just about anything to do with motorized travel.

There’s a long history of vindictive persecution of the automobile, its makers and its consumers in France. During World War II and its aftermath, many of the industry’s leading players, giants such as Louis Renault and Ettore Bugatti were vilified as enemy “collaborators” jailed and allegedly tortured. Their factories were confiscated by the government, and ruinous taxes imposed. In fact, France’s once-robust automotive design and coach-building industry, featuring such vaunted names as Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, Figoni & Falaschi, Sauotchik and Voisin, was quite literally taxed to death.

Back to the present day.

What about rising fuel taxes? They are a factor, to be sure, but probably not to the extent they are given blame. Gas prices in France have long been much higher than in neighboring countries. (I always fill up in Italy.)

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World’s third largest motorway petrol plaza – in Luxembourg (Tokheim)

Tiny Luxembourg exists, wags say, as a gas station for the neighboring French; huge “petrol plazas” greet motorists at nearly every entrance to the country.

Speed limits are generally lower in France than neighboring countries (in Italy and Spain the 130 kph limits are lightly enforced in most areas). Germany’s autobahns, famously, offer sections without any speed limits at all.

Every autoroute, or “interstate”, in France is also a toll road. And tolls are constantly going up. Toll booths (usually understaffed and only partially open) are installed every few miles, it seems, negating any speed advantage that might come from paying extra to take a limited access highway.

Every city and town has its own speed cameras,  traffic radars, and traffic cops. Crosswalks are elevated (with mounds of asphalt), ostensibly to slow traffic, but they also do a fairly reliable job of damaging cars – especially luxury models that hug the ground. (A particularly nasty crosswalk/speed bump I know of in Menton warns motorists it must be taken at no more than 10 kph; there’s a speed camera mounted there, which invariably catches offenders – airborne).

Vehicle registration and licensing fees are always increasing.

Air pollution is terrible, because the French government for years misguidedly promoted diesel-powered vehicles and discounted diesel fuel, to encourage adoption. Now that “clean” diesel has been outed as a big fraud, the government wants to raise diesel fuel taxes to demand-destructive levels, and to tax diesel cars off the road. Paris, in fact, wants to ban diesel cars (and eventually all cars) from its downtown core.

French cars, as a whole, are something of an acquired taste. They sell in sufficient numbers to keep their manufacturers’ solvent, but only in France. Italians buy Italian cars, Germans buy local, even Spanish motorists favor SEAT-badged VWs over French cars. The worst cars I drove out of dozens I tested in Europe the last three years were Peugeots and Citroens (Renaults were slightly more competitive). There’s a reason French cars are no longer even sold in the United States.

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Don’t be surprised when French public transportation goes on strike (BBC)

Might public transportation be a more attractive alternative? Well, that’s a whole other mess. The government is constantly raising prices of those conveyances, and always thinking of new ways to tax users into poverty. This, while ignoring maintenance, dumbing-down schedules, and generally making the travel experience as miserable as possible. Public transportation also perpetually seems to be suffering through some kind of strike – against bus companies, against airlines, against railways, against fuel refiners. Protestors infamously chased down airline executives announcing layoffs (two years ago now) and tried to rip their clothes off, as the desperate men threw themselves over a barbed wire fence to escape.

In balmy southern France, yellow vest protesters even wintered in makeshift encampments in highway roundabouts, try to rally the sympathies of motorists to widen the revolt. Traffic, understandably, was tied in knots for months.

Compounded by the still-unrequited hatred of the gilets jaunes, the situation seems almost at an impasse.

Is there a solution? I hardly think so. My conclusion is France just hates the car.

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A notable Kickstarter campaign for two-horsepower forms of transportation.

Jerry Garrett

April 1, 2019




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