They were supposed to be France’s “lethal weapon” against speeding motorists. Instead, the country’s new breed of reputedly "invincible" speed cameras are already falling foul to road rage vandals, with dozens trashed since the start of the summer, officials say.
French police commissioned the new high-tech radars after irate motorists - many of them supporters of the “yellow vest” revolt - trashed up to 75 per cent of the country’s classic speed traps in recent months, at an estimated cost of €360 million (£326m) to the taxpayer.
The new “turret” traps cost €32,000 a piece and can survey 32 vehicles within a 200m (219-yard) stretch of road at the same time, detecting not only excessive speed but other traffic violations including failure to wear a safety belt or use of mobile phone behind the wheel. Sitting atop a 3m(10 ft)-high pylon, the all-seeing devices were supposed to remain beyond the reach of vandals.
Some 450 were due to be installed by the end of the year. However, dozens have already been damaged and destroyed since July.
In the Alpine region of Savoie, out of six new devices due to be installed, the first was burned down within days and two others vandalised before police could complete their installation.
In the Aude, south-western France, eight such traps out of 14 have been vandalised.
Near Orléans, central France, one was hacked down with a chainsaw this week while the new turret in the southern coastal town of Mèze received a direct hit from a shotgun.
Already notoriously averse to limits on their freedom behind the wheel, French motorists were piqued into an anti-speed trap frenzy last year when the government cut the speed limit to 80 kilometres per hour, down from 90kph, on B-roads. The move was said to be a key factor in sparking the “yellow vest” movement last November along with plans to slap new “green taxes” on diesel and petrol.
As major cities, in particular Paris, verged on insurrection every weekend, many in provincial France took aim at speed traps - seen as another state attempt to fleece citizens. Some 2,100 devices were destroyed or damaged, sometimes several times.
The cost to the state was €60m in damage and €300m due to a drop in fines. While the yellow vest movement has lost steam and the government partially backtracked on the new speed limits, ire against such traps has apparently not abated.
The result, the government says, has been a rise in road accidents in the first of this year - up 419 to 32,000 in the past seven months compared to the same period of 2018.
Emmanuel Barbe, the French government’s road safety chief, said: “Those responsible for these acts of vandalism will have deaths on their conscience because without them motorists tend to drive faster, which mathematically causes more accidents.”
The culprits face harsh sentences of up to five years in prison and a €100,000 fine, he warned.
Chantal Perrichon, president of the league against road violence, told Le Parisien: "People have died and will die because there are no more automatic speed checks."
But she criticised the government’s decision to replace all the traps with static new ones, saying unmarked police cars would do a better job at a fraction of the cost.