Proceedings of the 24th World International Traffic Medicine Association Congress, Qatar 2015
  • ISSN: 2223-0440
  • EISSN:


Traffic accidents have conventionally been considered as the outcome of a dialectical interplay of three elements: the driver, the vehicle and the infrastructure. Everything that relates to the road, its maintenance and the traffic signs are constituents of the infrastructure. Therefore, all traffic accidents could be interpreted as a flaw in one or all of these elements. By developing new methods, the team I supervise has contributed significantly to the policy of traffic safety on French roads. As part our contribution, we have elaborated a fourth element called “organization,” and now the new paradigm is: the driver, the vehicle, the infrastructure and the organization). This model is today adopted by the majority of French experts.

The fact that the vehicles and the roads are in good condition does not benefit those countries in which the element of «organization» is weak or dysfunctional. The adverse effect comes from the fact that when the driver finds ideal conditions—an excellent road and car—he mostly tends to drive very fast as he does not sense any danger. As a result, ideal road conditions become more conducive for dangerous road accidents than the bad conditions. Our contribution lies in activating the theory that explains this blatant human contradiction. This theory is called the “risk balance theory.” It is as if the driver himself determines a given risk level in his life, so that each time his perception of the risk decreases he changes his behavior and the risk level increases, and vice versa. This theory is valid in most areas in which the human factor is involved. Psychologists consider that the success of the policy of deterrence in achieving traffic safety is attributed to the ticketing process, as offending drivers feel the threat which affects their license, i.e. the level of fear of losing the license increases which, in return, makes the driver refrain from violating the law. Therefore, the policies based on the point deduction system succeed more than the financial sanctions.

The history of traffic safety in France has witnessed two important periods. The first occurred after 1972 when the number of victims reached 18000 dead and 386000 injured. The authorities then set up the Comité Interministériel de Sécurité Routière (Interministerial Committee for Road Safety) under the supervision of the Prime Minister. All ministries were represented on the committee and the binding resolutions were implemented by all the ministers within their respective mandates. This organizational mechanism led, in addition to several other factors, to a significant decline in the number of casualties (3000 lives were saved in two years). This organizational mechanism continues up to now, and the Prime Minister periodically oversees the meetings of the committee which outlines the national traffic safety policy.

The number of casualties of road accidents continues to decline in France over the years but to a limited extent (200 to 300 lives saved annually), as the number of victims reached between 2000 and 8000 dead and 150000 injured. Despite this positive development, the European Commission intervened, considering these figures below expectations given the level of development among the member states and the fact that the mortality rate is an indicator of the progress of countries.

The European Commission set for each member state a goal to be attained within a period of 10 years. For France, the fatality rate should be lower than 3000 before 2012. Therefore, we consider the second crucial phase in the history of French traffic safety to be the one which took place after 2002.

To meet the objectives of the European Commission, France tightened control, activated the organizational mechanism and gave more importance to specialists in human behavior. For example, more than 4500 radars were installed and more than 1500 facilitators, half of whom were psychologists, were trained in awareness programs for traffic offenders. In addition, more than 700 doctors were given supplementary training. The driver’s license point system, particularly its information system part, was restructured, a driver’s license for beginners was initiated and the serious offenders or those who lost all of their points were required to visit psychologists and doctors specifically trained for this purpose.

All of these procedures have made France the closest among European countries to the goal set by the European Commission. The number of fatalities fell from 8150 in 2000 to 3260 in 2012. This achievement did not make France the best European country in traffic safety, but it made it the most successful in improving its statistics. This success story is based on the harmonization of the policies of deterrence and pedagogy and the crucial place given to psychological intervention.

Inspired by my personal contribution, as well as that of all the staff under my supervision, in achieving these satisfactory results, through studies, consultancies, training facilitators and sessions about awareness for traffic offenders, I will seek to demonstrate statistically the distinctive features of the successful French experience and the extent to which this policy is appropriate and applicable to fast developing countries.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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