Cycling idyll or danger zone? Spike in deaths on rural French roads

Cycling deaths shoot up on the roads that have long been renowned for safe and respectful driving

Cycle touring in France
(Image credit: Fred Tanneau / AFP / Getty)

Has our favourite cycling holiday destination just become less appealing? The French Cycling Federation (FFC) has called for urgent action following a report showing that cycling deaths and injury had shot up by 30% compared to pre-pandemic figures, reports Connexion France. The rise is particularly apparent on rural roads, which have long been viewed by British riders as among the best, and safest, in Europe with riders often making the trip across the Channel to enjoy them.

The FFC says it deplores what it calls "increasingly aggressive" behaviour by drivers, and has called for a meeting of cycling and motoring groups in order to decide upon a way forward.

In total, 244 cyclists were killed last year on French roads – 30% up on the 2019 figure of 187 – and with 60% of these incidents occurring outside of towns, according to the report by the French Road Safety Observatory. Underlining the town-country shift, the provisional report also shows that only one cyclist was killed in Paris in 2022.

The report states that: "Whether for sport or leisure, we should be able to ride without fear of bad drivers. Our future champions, some of whom will be participating in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024, are just as effected as casual bike users," the report stated.

According to the president of the Fédération des usagers de la bicyclette (FUB), rural drivers in France appear to be becoming less tolerant of cyclists.

"We are seeing more and more aggression from motorists, particularly in the countryside," he said.

The report was published just days after an intoxicated driver ploughed into a group of young riders from the Vélo Club du Pays de Guingamp in Brittany, which resulted in two serious injuries.

Figures for death and injury on the road do of course fluctuate, and there is every chance that this year will be a less tragic one. But certainly it seems that if the situation continues, the rural roads of France are in danger of losing their golden lustre.

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 

Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.

A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.