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Sharp rise in cyclist deaths on country roads in France blamed on “increasingly aggressive” drivers

Almost four in ten riders who lost their lives last year were aged 55+ and on rural roads

An organisation representing cyclists in France says that “increasingly aggressive” drivers are behind a big rise in deaths of people riding bikes, especially in rural areas, and has urged that a road safety forum be put in place to address the issue.

The call to action by the Fédération des Usagers de la Bicyclette (FUB) – like Cycling UK a member of the European Cyclists’ Federation – follows the publication of provisional figures that revealed a 30 per cent jump cyclist fatalities in France in 2022 compared to 2019, the latter being the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic, reports The Connexion.

A provisional report from the country’s road safety observatory, ONISR, shows that last year, 244 people – 210 men and 34 women – were killed on French roads while riding bikes, with the rise in the number of fatalities on rural roads is outpacing those in cities. A further 2,700 people were seriously injured.

Around 44 per cent of the fatal crashes happened in urban locations, the remaining 56 per cent being in rural areas, and of the 244 cyclists who died, 38 per cent were aged 55 and above and were riding in the countryside.

Responding to the report, FUB’s president, Teodoro Bartuccio, said: “We are seeing more and more aggression from motorists, particularly in the countryside where drivers seem most intolerant of cyclists. More than 60 per cent of cyclists who died after an accident were riding outside of city areas.”

Cities including the capital Paris, as well as Strasbourg, Grenoble and Nantes, have all invested heavily in cycling infrastructure and encourage people to get in the saddle, with levels of cycling in urban areas rising by 34 per cent from 2019 to 2022.

But while the rise in cycling deaths in built-up areas was lower, at 16 per cent, than the growth in cycling there, the opposite was found in rural areas, with levels of cycling up 18 per cent between 2019 and 2022, but the number of fatalities riding by 47 per cent.

And with central government promoting what it terms ‘soft mobility’ – what in the UK, we would call ‘active travel’ – the FUB is urging that rural riders be afforded similar interventions in terms of safety as those benefiting their urban counterparts.

“Whether for sport or leisure, we should be able to ride without fear of bad drivers,” Bartuccio added.

“Our future champions, some of whom will be participating in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024, are just as affected as casual bike users.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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20 comments

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Armstrong's_balls | 9 months ago
8 likes

Interesting. 

I don't profess to know the reasons for this, but here are my subjective observations as a cyclommuter in Paris, having done 7 years in London previously. Interpret them as you will. I'm not even sure what conclusion to draw, if any.

My commute is about 20 miles each way, mostly on tow paths and cycle lanes shared with pedestrians.

9 out of 10 cars use the the entire other lane when passing, which I was not used to after being in London for so long. The remaining 1/10 is either a punishment pass, negligent/distracted driver pass or outright dangerous driving, e.g. at a pinch point or when there's a car in the opposite direction.

There's far less lycra, fewer road bikes, greater prevalence of upright granny and hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters and gyropods (which look absolutely mental and terrifying, they go like rockets). All electrically-assisted devices are limited to 25 kph but many go at twice the speed, illegally so. Cyclists seem to dress in normal clothes for the most part.

Drivers seem to almost be generally alone in their cars and are inevitably distracted by their mobile phones. I've given up on looking into their cars to satisfy my curiosity, I just know that 50% of the time, their gaze would be firmly directed at their lap if I did care to look.

Taxis are an absolute menace if you have the temerity to use the shared bus/taxi/cycle lane. In fact, most punishment passes I've experienced are related to them.

There's no point reporting video evidence to the police, nor is there any way of doing so.

Dogs, on an off leashs, are as bad as taxis. What's even more shocking is dog owners' lack of any remorse when their off-leash pets (which is unlawful here in most public places) provoke a crash. Having got this far without resorting to stereotyping the French, I can say without any irony whatsoever that the so-called gallic shrug is REAL, and situations like these is when it hits you with all its force, as the owner of the dog looking down at you from above while you're writhing in pain on the ground just goes 'meh', shrugs his fucking shoulders and acts like he did nothing wrong by letting his out of control dog dart out from the bush into a busy cycle lane.

Urban cyclists are extremely undisciplined at red lights and intersections, which earns them vitriolic hate of the general population. The mayor of Paris is vicariously hated as a result. However, one of Paris' best cycling infrastructures is owed to her in large part. In fact, it is the only reason I can do my long commute, as it allows me to cross Paris on its horizontal axis with near-total continuity, right on the banks of river Seine. Imagine cycling on the banks of river Thames on a segregated path from Canary Wharf to Chelsea, save a couple of intersections. It's pretty amazing. 

E-scooters are probably hated even more, partly due to media attention. In fact, the aforementioned mayor of Paris is even considering not renewing Lime's and other scooter hire providers' licence. Private e-scooters are still allowed.

The Paris equivalent of TfL has a dockless cycle hire scheme called Véligo which is more of a long-term lease than a hire scheme like Boris Bikes, Lime, etc.. It's about 40 euros a month for a pretty decent and sturdy electric bike, maintenance included. Employers will generally contribute 50% of your commute costs in Paris. There's a waiting list to get one, partly because many Deliveroo riders and the like have appropriated a significant proportion of the existing bike stock (in complete breach of the terms of use).

Occasionally car drivers will drive like absolute maniacs for no apparent reason, and I say this both as a cyclist and an avid petrol car owner. Red-line revving, tailgaiting at 80mph on the motorway and generally agressive driving is strangely common. It seems people seem to want to let off steam or want to drive dangerously for the hell of it.

Most people I know are awfully lazy about their transport options and don't think twice about driving 2 or 3 miles when they could cycle or walk instead. 'It's cold', 'oh but you're used to cycling, I'm not', etc. Many such excuses. Sad!

I would be very weary of riding on main country roads - did it once, it was terrifying. Deserted and narrow country lanes on the other hand are an absolute pleasure. Those surrounding the Golfe du Morbihan were particularly nice.

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marmotte27 | 9 months ago
3 likes

I'm sure there are many factors incolved. Pretty sure the general lack of traffic controls plays a role. 10 years ago you'd regularly see gendarmes somewhere or other checking speeds or whatever. Almost never happens anymore as France like every neoliberal country is cutting its public services to the bone. Less and less reliable railways certainly increase traffic levels on the roads.
Phone use is certainly on the rise, SUVs are just one indicator of rising selfishness that removes people ever further from reality, driver attitudes are worsening (if Brits find that they're good/better in France, what a sorry place the UK must be...).
I'm not going to talk about e-bikes, but the fact that they will mainly appeal to an older and more fragile population will certainly be a factor, not the most important, but still.

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chrisonatrike replied to marmotte27 | 9 months ago
0 likes

But do the French blame Brexit though?

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marmotte27 | 9 months ago
0 likes

Bartuccio is not the FUB President, that's Olivier Schneider.
Bartuccio has founded an organisation called "Mon vélo est une vie".

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Secret_squirrel | 9 months ago
1 like

Perhaps the French should stop recommending onions, stripy jumpers and berets as PPE for cyclists?

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marmotte27 replied to Secret_squirrel | 9 months ago
1 like

Perhaps you should shut up about PPE ?

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chrisonatrike replied to Secret_squirrel | 9 months ago
0 likes

You can't carry a baguette on a bike, mate!

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mr_pickles2 replied to chrisonatrike | 9 months ago
2 likes

You joke, but I tried to once and got home to find half of it gone! 

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perce | 10 months ago
6 likes

My brother once claimed when applying for a job that he had managed a vineyard in France for five years. He'd never been to France in his life. He was a bit of a con man - one time in court he sentenced the judge to five years in prison.

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Sriracha | 10 months ago
7 likes

Ha! Reminds me of when I went on the school French exchange last century (back when schools still did that). We sat down to school dinner, the Frogs were all like, "Sorry guys, school food's shit, innit". We just gawped - crusty bread on the table, steak and chips, veg not boiled to a pulp. "You're in for a shock", we thought.

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grOg replied to Sriracha | 9 months ago
0 likes

They'd definitely be in a shock if they came to an Australian school; no such thing as school supplied food with Australian schools.. Australia has this weird thing that parents are responsible for feeding their children.

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cdamian | 10 months ago
1 like

Compared to Spain I never felt save cycling in France.
I just know the area around the Pyrenees where I did a few tours.

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jaysa replied to cdamian | 10 months ago
2 likes

Interesting. I spend time in the Alps and Pyrenees, where I find Frenchies are just fine, allowing for tourists and long vehicles getting round hairpins. Drivers even move in to help you overtake downhill. The closer you get to the Med, the more impatient they get ...

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ooblyboo | 10 months ago
4 likes

I ride in the same corner of rural France annually and I am happy to say that so far, the attitude to cyclists is far better than Kent where I live. Long may it continue to be that good.

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jh2727 replied to ooblyboo | 10 months ago
1 like

ooblyboo wrote:

I ride in the same corner of rural France annually and I am happy to say that so far, the attitude to cyclists is far better than Kent where I live. Long may it continue to be that good.

You don't want the drivers in Kent to improve their attitude?

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ooblyboo replied to jh2727 | 10 months ago
3 likes

This is why I said "long may it continue to be that good" 😉

Kent definitely isn't good.

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Mungecrundle | 10 months ago
8 likes

Did the London - Paris thing a few years back. Cycling through Kent was horrendous with respect to standards of driving, even circling the Arc de Triumph was less stressful! I came to be quite envious of the French roads, cycle infrastructure and general relaxed attitude from motorists around cyclists. The mid morning coffee and a bun in some delightful small French Town square was also not too shabby.

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belugabob | 10 months ago
10 likes

The flippant response is that the increase probably correlates with loads of Brits moving to France, because of Brexit.

The more sensible response is that I'm both surprised at the rate of incidents (because riding in France felt so much safer than the UK) and heartened by the fact that the stats seem to have elicited a desire to do something about it {which we seem to struggle with, in the UK)

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Daveyraveygravey replied to belugabob | 10 months ago
2 likes

belugabob wrote:

The flippant response is that the increase probably correlates with loads of Brits moving to France, because of Brexit. The more sensible response is that I'm both surprised at the rate of incidents (because riding in France felt so much safer than the UK) and heartened by the fact that the stats seem to have elicited a desire to do something about it {which we seem to struggle with, in the UK)

I think you'll find it's now harder to move to France, or any other country in Europe, because of Brexit?!

As you say, at least the French are acknowledging where the problem is.  We drove through France last year, and it was amazing how almost every small town and village had real traffic calming measures, such as chicanes/slaloms at the entrance and exit of the village, and then planters and parking alternating through the village.  It felt like they really were trying to entice people out of their cars.

Whether these towns and villages are part of the rural areas where the deaths are rising isn't clear, to me at least.

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belugabob replied to Daveyraveygravey | 10 months ago
1 like
Daveyraveygravey wrote:

belugabob wrote:

The flippant response is that the increase probably correlates with loads of Brits moving to France, because of Brexit. The more sensible response is that I'm both surprised at the rate of incidents

(because riding in France felt so much safer than the UK) and heartened by the fact that the stats seem to have elicited a desire to do something about it {which we seem to struggle with, in the UK)

I think you'll find it's now harder to move to France, or any other country in Europe, because of Brexit?!

As you say, at least the French are acknowledging where the problem is.  We drove through France last year, and it was amazing how almost every small town and village had real traffic calming measures, such as chicanes/slaloms at the entrance and exit of the village, and then planters and parking alternating through the village.  It felt like they really were trying to entice people out of their cars.

Whether these towns and villages are part of the rural areas where the deaths are rising isn't clear, to me at least.

I was thinking more about the ones that moved before the drawbridge was raised.

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