August 29 2014

Strasbourg, France Tests Reduced Traffic Fines for Cyclists – Are They Effective?

Since November 2012, Strasbourg, France has been experimenting with reduced fines, created exclusively for cyclists. Instead of paying a fine of 90 euros, cyclists benefit from a tariff of 45.60 euros, used for ten different infractions. Two years later, where are we? Are these fines actually effective?

Two years ago, Strasbourg became the object of media buzz when the city decided to put these reduced fines in place. The goal of these measures, jointly put in place by the city, the prefect of Bas-Rhin, and the district attorney, was to reduce the number of accidents, but also to propose a more reasonable penalty. The reduced fine is half as much as that paid for the same type of infractions committed by an automobilist.

According to the statistics relayed by the city since putting reduced fines in place in 2012, the National Police had fined 365 cyclists up until Nov. 13, 2013. The Municipal Police had fined 361 up until March 8 2014, for a total of 726 tickets given during this time span. A figure that seems modest when one knows that 8% of trips taken in all of Greater Strasbourg are on bikes, and 15% of those are downtown.   

Assessment of infractions taken from the Municipal Police of Strasbourg by Rue89 Strasbourg

The implementation of reduced fines, and the tickets given as a consequence, seem to have had a direct effect on the number of accidents in which cyclists have been implicated.  

According to a report done by Greater Strasbourg, the number of accidents including at least one cyclist went down from 108 in 2012 to 67 in 2013. This is undeniably progress, but can it be directly attributed to reduced fines? According to the police, yes, but not necessarily according to everyone else.

More attentive cyclists?

At the heart of the reduced-fines initiative was also the question of rendering cyclists, often labeled as “mobile dangers,” responsible for their actions. Common offenses include using mobile phones while cycling, riding on the sidewalks, refusing to give the right of way to pedestrians, and the most classic: running red lights.  

For Joseph Muller, Municipal Police Chief, the initiative has succeeded. Reduced fines have had a real, educational effect:

“Cyclists are more respectful of traffic laws and are themselves an example of greater vigilance. When I drive around, I observe that cyclists stop for stoplights or take note of stop signs. They have realized the risk that they incur for themselves and for other people on the road. I also think that the fear of the police and of getting a 45.60 euro fine have dissuaded more than one from committing an infraction…”

Road Construction in Strasbourg, France

“I have not observed a major change in behavior. Cyclists pay a bit more attention, but this evolution could also be linked to new developments: new bike lanes and paths have appeared all over Strasbourg. And also, I know that around me, not everyone is aware that these new fining measures exist!”

It is certainly easier to get around by bike on the more than 560 km of bike paths that exist today than on the 450 available in 2004. The city is trying to preserve its status as first of the top five cities for biking (in France). As such, Strasbourg regularly begins new construction in order to facilitate getting around on two wheels. This also plays into the optimistic accident statistics. Thus, the changes cannot only be contributed to reduced fines.

For Julie, adept at riding her bike on a day-to-day basis, however, these fines serve no purpose:

“I received a 90 euro fine because I ran a red light, but I continue to ride as I wish when I am late or in a hurry. If police officers are next to me or I consider myself to be in a delicate situation, then I am very careful. They are trying to scare us with these fines, but I have the impression the the cyclists of Strasbourg continue to ride however they want. On a bike, in any case, you have the impression of being less of a source of danger than a car.”

Nevertheless, the relations between pedestrians and cyclists are often a source of conflict: it is only necessary to move about, on foot or by bike, for a few minutes for this to become clear. The fines should, ultimately, pacify the tensions for better coexistence on the road. But the anticipated effects have not come to fruition, as explains the Municipal Police Chief:

“The behavior of cyclists has moved in the right direction, but the relations between pedestrians and the cyclists are still in the same place. We continue to receive complaints from people who have had altercations with bikes, and vice-versa.

Price too high and bad application

According to Jean Chaumien, former president of the association Cadr 67 (an organization promoting biking), reduced fines are not enough. “The association Cadr 67 signed the agreement permitting the creation of these reduced fines. Despite our efforts, the price of the fine is still too high. It is disproportionate: a cyclist who runs a red light causes much less damage than a car! And also, you have to remember that many cyclists don’t have their driving permits and ignore certain rules of the road.”

Beyond the price, it seems that the authorities do not systematically apply the reduced fine when ticketing a violator, and have been known to fine the full price of 90 euros. A mistake that cyclists pay for, as did Muriel Schneider:

“They fined me on July 15th for having run a red light. The police officer, municipal or national, I don’t know, told me that I was “lucky” to be fined in Strasbourg as I would pay less. When I asked why, the officer didn’t know how to respond. My stupefaction was enormous when I opened my mail: the fine indicated a total of 90 euros! The ticket specified that I had a total of 15 days to pay the fine. If I surpassed that period, I had between 16 and 45 days to pay 135 euro, and 375 euros if I refused to pay without contesting the fine…”

According to Cadr 67, there have been a certain number of the same type of complaints. Why the errors? It has been impossible to obtain a response to our questions. As for the city, we are told: “It is not their responsibility because the responsibility for the fines is shared between the prefect’s office and the district attorney.” Regarding communication with the national police, they explain:

“We are taking a break from communications surrounding biking until further notice. Nevertheless, one or two errors can happen, even if that seems improbable knowing that a police officer can’t make a mistake given that all of the paperwork is computerized. Those implicated have the right to contest their fines.”

Not enough enforcement?

Municipal Police of Strasbourg, France

While waiting for a clear response, Gregory Delattre, writer of the blog ibikestrasbourg, saw “communication problems” in the system and something lacking at the level of enforcement.

“I think that police officers aren’t in the habit of ticketing cyclists. They need to adapt. Next, they are always present at the Pont du Corbeau, la Place d’Austerlitz, and Grand’Rue. Certainly, there are strategic places, but I ask myself: is enforcement useful when it is always enacted in the same exact spots?”

Will these measures evolve in Strasbourg? In what direction? If becoming more strict with ticketing in the second half of the year seems to be part of the program, once again, nothing is clear. Because the regulation is shared between the city, the prefect, and the district attorney, the city, “does not wish to make any comments regarding eventual new actions.” What is clear is that in acting as a test city, Strasbourg will have to provide more evidence of the reduced fines’ success. In the case of convincing results, the reduced fines are due to be extended over all of France.  

Do you think fines can be an effective way of reducing cycling accidents? Or are urban planning and infrastructure projects likely to be more effective at increasing cities’ safety?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Katelyn Hewett

Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year writing classes, and volunteering through the French Department. She spends her free time writing fiction and doing interior design projects. Katie loves reading both fiction and non-fiction and hopes to pursue a career in publishing in the near future, ideally with a small, independent press. For the coming school year, however, Katie will be teaching English in Montpellier, France. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to immerse herself in the French language.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 29th, 2014 at 9:20 am and is filed under Katelyn Hewett, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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