French Stereotype: Bad Drivers

It seems like the more the population booms, the more we all think we live somewhere with the worst drivers ever. No matter where you are, it feels like the entire world has become one big school parking lot with new drivers anxious to get home after the last bell rings. Talk about bumper cars! Maybe statistically there’s some factual data behind the phenomenon. Los Angeles has basically the worst traffic in the world, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if there were more accidents there than in a lot of other cities. But some places have endured the stereotype of bad driving skills for a lot longer than others, and France is most definitely one of them. Is it true?

Well, maybe a little bit. According to some pretty irrelevant surveys, French drivers don’t really like to follow the rules. Traffic lights? Nope, we don’t like traffic lights. Cutting someone off? Sure, if it’ll get me to the liquor store (or maybe that audition) a little bit sooner. The poll asked pretty standard questions about stopping at lights or speeding through small towns. Not surprisingly, nearly half of respondents kept going if the light was yellow, and the same number exceed the speed limit on occasion. To be honest, “nearly half” is a lot fewer than I’d have expected.

The survey also revealed a decline in the number of drivers who thought cell phone use while driving was dangerous. While that may seem meaningful, here’s a more meaningful statistic that you can rely on: car accidents that resulted in a fatality are fewer than the world average. For every 100,000 citizens of a particular country, the average death rate worldwide is 17.4 people. For all of Europe, the rate stands at 9.3. In France, the number stands at a measly 5.1! Compare that to the United States, which enjoys more than double the number of deaths as France. I guess we know who the bad drivers really are (not that I’m judging, since I live here). The difference is similar even if you compare the number of deaths with the number of vehicles on the road.

The smaller number of accidents might also be a result of stricter laws. France has a lower legal blood limit for alcohol than other countries in the area, and police have the right to perform random checks to carry out a breathalyzer test. In addition, the French are legally obligated to carry certain safety items in their vehicles just in case they get into an accident or the car breaks down. This might help prevent cars from inadvertently hitting a car stopped at the side of the road.

At the end of the day, the stereotype probably doesn’t have any merit. The French drive just like anyone else. Sometimes they break the rules to get from point A to point B more quickly, but most of the time they don’t.