French presidential elections can killBMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7320.1021/a (Published 03 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1021
Several French associations for the prevention of road traffic deaths and injuries have appealed to presidential election candidates to renounce the pardon usually granted by newly elected presidents to people who violate traffic regulations.
They claim that the knowledge of a forthcoming amnesty for violators encourages some drivers to take more risks, knowing they can disregard traffic regulations with impunity. According to the Prévention Routiàre, the major association for the promotion of traffic safety, election day amnesties may have caused several hundred additional deaths in the past.
Prévention Routiàre has been alarmed this year by a sharp increase in accidents and deaths in September. The number of accidents recorded was 12042, compared with 10480 (15% increase) in September last year. The corresponding figures for deaths were 679 versus 637 (7% increase) and for people injured were 15754 versus 13647 (15% increase). In its appeal, Prévention Routiàre was joined by several other associations and foundations.
The presidential amnesty for traffic violations was authorised by the constitution in 1958 and is taken for granted to the point that many parking and speeding tickets are simply ignored for months preceding a presidential election. There is no comparable “tradition” elsewhere in Europe.
Usually, the amnesty applies to “minor” parking and speeding violations that have not been dealt with by the time of the election, and apparently drivers have determined empirically that this may include tickets written from six months to a year before the election.
The next presidential election in France will take place in May 2002. The two main candidates are the incumbent president, Jacques Chirac, of the right wing Rally for the Republic party, and Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister. In response to the appeal, Mr Chirac has announced that there will be no amnesty for “life threatening” violations (without specifying what they represent). Mr Jospin has not yet reacted.
Last year 8078 people died as a result of traffic accidents in France—twice as many as in the United Kingdom, which has about the same population and the same number of cars.