Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Does France want motorbikes off its roads?

While I was browsing the French motorcycle news website Le Repaire des Motards I came across a rather alarming snippet of news (read it in full – and in French – here) that could represent a great threat to motorcycling in France.

For those of you who used to sleep at the back of the classroom during French lessons and can’t read the linked article, it would appear that Alain Perret, the Prefect (govt. representative) of the Haut-Rhin département would like to make it illegal for motorcyclists to ride on the roads of the département’s Vosges region at weekends.

His argument for touting such a measure is that people in the Vosges are sick and tired of motorcyclists’ high-speed shenanigans on the local mountain roads, along with the high accident rate for motorbikes. In his view, both these reasons warrant a blanket ban on bikes at the weekend.

This photo could soon be a thing of the past

Now don’t get me wrong: I feel concerned by both issues mentioned. I am as annoyed as anybody else by the antics of an irresponsible minority of brainless morons on bikes who go tear-arsing around with scant regard for the safety and welfare of other, more sedate road users. And I also applaud any intelligent measure aimed at reducing motorcycle accident statistics. But gunning for an entire collective just because a handful of them misbehave is outrageous. It smacks of racism; imagine preventing people from ethnic minorities from moving around freely just because a handful of them screw around – people would be up in arms, and rightly so! Well I’m sorry, but this measure is just as discriminatory and unacceptable. [...]

And it doesn’t just affect motorcyclists. Has Mr Perret thought about the tourist industry in the Vosges? I think that somebody should remind him that many of the motorcyclists on the roads in the Vosges at weekends are out for a quiet ride, being more interested in the stunning scenery about them instead of top speeds (particularly not those aboard vintage bikes, Harleys, Goldwings and the like), and will usually patronise local restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. Quite a few aren’t locals: just count the number of foreign registrations on bikes in spring and summer. Tell these people that they’re not welcome and they’ll answer by spending their holiday money elsewhere (yes, motorcyclists are consumers just like anybody else: don’t let the leathers and crash helmets fool you).

More alarmingly for French and foreign motorcyclists, you can be sure that other regional Prefects have their beady little eyes on the Haut-Rhin département and the Vosges region in particular. You see, these people just love prohibiting things and, naturally, once something is prohibited you can punish people (usually with fines and points, sometimes even with prison sentences) for doing them, which is good for getting elected to – or staying in – office, as well as being good for regional coffers. So the upshot is that one day, in a not-too-distant future, the whole of France might be off-limits to motorcycles at weekends.

I sincerely thought that France was a country of freedom; if you look closely at the facades of many town halls and other public buildings you will see three words carved above the doorway, one of which is “Liberté”. I therefore find it shocking that an official representative of the French government should be promoting a measure that is discriminatory, illogical, Ubuesque and that could even be deemed unconstitutional (in its ruling of 12th July 1979, the French Constitutional Council stated that the freedom to move around is a fundamental constitutional right that is protected by Articles 2 and 4 of the Declaration of Human and Citizens’ Rights of 1789). One could even argue that it falls foul of international human rights legislation, which is a very poor showing for a country that loves to boast about being the land of Human Rights. For all of the above, The Thruxtonian is ready to associate itself to the fight against this ridiculous, insulting and segregationist measure.

Today, the Vosges. And tomorrow… the whole of France? And the day after that?

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