French Protesters Destroy Over 60 Percent of the Country's Traffic Cameras Over Taxes

The country has approximately 3,200 traffic cams in total with estimates of completely replacing a destroyed unit reaching $114,000.

Damien Meyer/Getty Images

Last November, protesters in France took to the streets over sharp increases in fuel taxes. They wore the yellow safety vests motorists are required to keep in their cars and were deemed the "Gilets Jaunes" (literally, "Yellow Vests") for it accordingly. While confrontations between these angry motorists and the French government in Paris have calmed down somewhat from the height of the conflict, the Gilets Jaunes haven't exactly gone anywhere. They're now taking their anti-government sentiments out on traffic cameras. 

Over 60 percent of France's approximately 3,200 traffic cameras have been vandalized or destroyed by the Gilets Jaunes, reports Car and Driver. Given that these monitor speeding 24 hours a day and send out tickets accordingly, many drivers aren't exactly mourning their loss. 

Traffic cameras are the ultimate symbol of what the Gilet Jaunes despises, as Car and Driver explains: 

Their movement started in November 2018 over fuel prices, as we've previously described. But the list of grievances they have dramatically brought to French president Emmanuel Macron also included one criticizing the proliferation of cameras on French roads and the reduced speed limits (recently cut to 50 mph from 55 mph on many roads). Many motorists in France doggedly believe the government orchestrated these measures strictly to fill its coffers. 

The only entity truly affected by the destruction of speed cameras is the government itself—not private citizens or businesses. That's exactly who the Gilets Jaunes want to target, as they seek to act on the behalf of French drivers fed up with the car travel which they rely on to get to work and perform other everyday tasks being taxed and over-policed into oblivion. 

So far, traffic cameras of all kinds have reportedly had their sensors hidden by spray paint, yellow vests or garbage bags, and even set on fire. Protesters slip a tractor or truck tire doused in flammable liquid around the base of the traffic camera and set it afire to take the camera out with it. 

Damien Meyer/Getty Images

A spray painted-over speed camera in France

Sadly, this destruction may come back to bite the protesters. Estimates for repairing the cameras ran anywhere from a few hundred dollars (U.S.) for minor vandalism to as high as $114,000 to replace a completely burned-out camera. Maintenance for the camera fleet is usually funded by fines the cameras deal out, but with fewer cameras online to hand out tickets, the government will have to figure out how to pay for it somehow. 

As much as we hate getting a surprise ticket in the mail, though, critics of the movement and government officials note that the traffic cameras are there to help reduce crashes and fatalities on the road. Speeding in France rose 20 percent in December 2018 as drivers took advantage of the less monitored roads, according to government statistics. 

France has augmented its enforcement of traffic offenses with cameras since 2004. While you can still be pulled over for traffic offenses in France, the police and Gendarmerie are unable to enforce traffic laws as thoroughly as the cameras when they are down. 

The French government was already looking for a solution to the issue of easily destructible speed cameras, though, Car and Driver notes. Up to 6,000 new speed cameras are expected to hit French roads by 2020, and these cameras sit higher—a full 13 feet above the ground.