Foreign news recently reported that French motorcyclists (or rather, a motorcyclist organization called the Fédération française des motards en colère (FFMC), which translates as the French Union of Evil Bikers) have organized protests over the aisle ban. Did the French miss their yellow vests?
It’s a little more complicated.
Riding in the aisle
Driving in the aisle is allowed in many countries of the European Union, and in some it is even passed on exams for a driving license of category A. However, in the French traffic rules, driving between the rows was never unambiguously acceptable, just the local road police did not pay attention to driving in the aisle, and the car drivers put up with her.
A little more than 5 years ago, French bureaucrats from the Interdepartmental Committee for Road Safety (CISR) decided to take advantage of the experience of foreign colleagues, study driving in the aisle and determine the rules for safe movement between lanes in order to enter them into the traffic rules and thus legalize the aisle finally.
They acted on the basis of the experience of Belgium, a neighboring country with very similar traffic rules: the row spacing has been legal there since 2012. The Belgian experience has shown that driving between rows is not much more dangerous than driving in a lane, and legalization has not increased accident statistics. What’s more, Belgium encourages row-spacing as it relieves lanes, allowing not only motorcyclists, but also motorists to get there faster.
For a large-scale social experiment, row-spacing was allowed during a five-year study in 11 departments in France (the country consists of 96 departments in total). Officially, CISR outlined the framework for driving in the aisle as follows:
- Allowed on motorways and similar roads with a dividing strip and two or more lanes in each direction, with a maximum speed of 70 to 130 km / h
- Allowed only between lanes 1 and 2 (i.e., on roads with three lanes in each direction, you can only drive in the left aisle)
- The maximum driving speed in the row spacing is 50 km / h, i.e. when the flow is moving at a higher speed, leaving the aisle is prohibited
- Motorcycles and tricycles with a track width of no more than a meter are allowed in the aisle (i.e. you can ride a Piaggio MP3 like that, but not a Can-Am Spyder or Ural with a sidecar)
The French government aims to reduce road fatalities by 50% by 2030. To do this, they collect reports of accidents in a very detailed form, and according to statistics, in terms of a kilometer of travel, a motorcycle is 20 times more dangerous than a car, but only a small number of accidents involving a motorcycle occur when a motorcycle is moving in the aisle. Therefore, it seemed that bringing the legislation in line with the existing practice was fully justified. Régis Gaillaud, prefect (government official), stated that “it seems preferable to us to study the movement in the aisle, organize it and teach the rules of such driving in driving schools.”
The French Motor Federation supported the study, also because it took place in the largest cities in France – Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon, where many FFMC members live, who already travel between the rows. Legalizing this practice would be a legislative success for motorcyclists, especially in light of previous failures of their initiatives (for example, the ban on the operation of old motorcycles in Paris).
The experimental conditions were developed by CISR with the participation of the Gustav Eiffel University, specializing in urban studies and transport problems), Ergo Center, a public-private partnership, specializing in the development of experiments and the study of opinions, and FFMC. The 11 selected departments account for most of France’s large multi-lane roads, which regularly experience congestion. Another department was selected as the control group.
The experiment required significant public awareness efforts, including communicating with car drivers and motorcyclists about “Riding between rows: learning to divide the road”… One brochure was created for motorcyclists, explaining when and how to legally move in the aisle. Half a million copies were distributed through motorcycle shops, driving schools and at events, and was also distributed by motorcycle magazines as advertisements.
The second brochure, with a circulation of three hundred thousand copies, was created for car drivers, and it sounded an explanation that, as part of the experiment, driving in the aisle was recognized as legal, and a call to carefully look at the mirrors and be ready for the approach of motorcyclists, to leave the aisle as free as possible, always use turn signals and avoid sudden changes of lanes. These brochures were also distributed in driving schools and in the French equivalent of the traffic police, and their content was published in a popular free newspaper. In addition, a reminder that there might be motorcyclists in the aisle was displayed on interactive road signs along the highway.
For its part, FFMC promoted an existing video tutorial on safe and responsible aisle driving. This video was filmed before the experiment as an attempt to teach motorcyclists to be predictable road users and to prevent them from tightening the nuts on that part.
The aim of the experiment was to find out whether the training of motorists and motorcyclists can influence their behavior on the road, both in terms of attention to other road users and in terms of reducing accidents. It was hoped that the study would yield results that would allow driving schools to improve the quality of training for motorcyclists and motorists and reduce road accidents, as well as to correct French traffic rules, making driving between aisles completely legal.
The results of the study turned out to be paradoxical.
Five years later, the results of the experiment were evaluated by the Center for Research and Examination of Risks, Nature Management, Transport and Planning (CEREMA) and presented to Marie Gaultier-Melleré, French Interministerial Delegate for Road Safety. According to the CEREMA report, the experiment resulted in marked improvements in the learning and behavior of car and motorcycle riders, but as Gauthier-Mölleré of the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations said:
The result does not meet our expectations, since the percentage of road accidents in the study areas compared to the control area significantly increased in one zone and slightly increased in the rest.
Specifically, motorcycle accidents increased by 12% on the experimental roads and decreased by 10% on the remaining roads in these 11 departments. The French authorities expected that the results of the experiment would become the basis for legalizing the practice of inter-row driving across the country, and instead they were forced to end a period of pseudo-legalism of such driving. A fine of 135 euros and three points in a driver’s license (12 points lead to a temporary deprivation of the right to drive a vehicle) again apply everywhere.
This is bad news for the FFMC, but the protests organized by the Federation were not about this. They protested against the form of the experiment and the interpretation of its results, since the increase in the number of accidents over the 5 years of study did not take into account the fact that during this time and the intensity of traffic increased.
It is noteworthy that almost all of the increase in accidents was recorded in one department, the Gironde, which includes the city of Bordeaux. The authorities of the Gironde admitted that during the study in this department, the population increased significantly, and therefore the number of congestions on the road, which inevitably led to more frequent driving in the aisle. Perhaps it was worth considering this information and, for example, finding out how the number of accidents involving only cars on the same roads increased. This was not done.
What is the result?
In his letter, FFMC’s director of public relations, Didier Renois, said that “Row-aisle driving is still overlooked, as before and during the experiment”. In other words, the police will not take action in the event of safe driving, but those who drive like an idiot will also be punished for driving in the aisle.
Renoist also wrote that a new three-year study is already planned and should begin in June. It will affect the entire country and include a broader educational program for motorists and motorcyclists. The new study will undoubtedly take into account the factor of changes in the structure of traffic during its course.
It is clear that the government remains interested in legalizing rather than criminalizing aisle traffic, an FFMC spokesman said.
So the news that French motorcyclists are protesting against the draconian ban on previously permitted aisle rides is on the conscience of journalists. Yes, the country is full of bureaucrats lobbying diametrically opposed interests, and it is no wonder to get lost in local legislation, but efforts are being made in the country to establish order and legalize what the population needs. And the population here really loves to argue, so even the return of the status quo has brought local activists to the barricades. But they also love and respect logic, so the French specialists will give odds to any country in terms of statistics on road incidents: they collect the largest array of data on all accidents, have developed a detailed system for registering and reporting all injuries on the road, surpassing even aviation statistics – in a word , the guys in berets and with Galoise in their teeth are not only waving their hands and making noise at the barricades, but also quite effectively working to rationalize their traffic, and legislation in general.