Gendarmes Strike Back at FB Page in Historical Precedent

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Social networking site used by Aveyron locals to pinpoint police checkpoints may be the first of many for scrappage

We might all be used to the warning system understood by many drivers in Ireland about a speeding checkpoint up ahead – signalled by using the flashing headlights. This has progressed to people setting up warnings on websites and Facebook pages too.

In France however, it looks like warning your fellow motorist against legal checkpoints that are there for the control of public road safety is something that’s not going to be tolerated for much longer. For the first time in France, public authorities have taken out cases against drivers who contribute to a Facebook page indicating the presence of speed traps and checkpoints in their department (the equivalent of a county).

In total, ten people are being prosecuted in the Aveyron department and will be brought before court on the 9th of September next. According to the terms in one article of the highway code, they are not allowed to used “a device or aid of any sort to detect radar signals”.

The decision that the judges will hand down in September will be closely examined because the Net throws up situations like these that remain in the legal grey zone until the legal system swoops down on them to reinstate black-and-white legality on the situation. Nicknamed “Le groupe qui te dit où est la police en Aveyron” (“The group that tells you where the police are in Aveyron”), the information online is kept right up to date by members on their smart phones. As soon one of the them catches sight of a radar gun or a tell-tale képi (the famous peaked cap of a gendarme) along the county roads, the site is updated and the other members are immediately informed. Membership has risen to 9,000, meaning that there are 9,000 motorists in Aveyron alone that have an online early-warning system against being caught speeding.

Departmental prosecutor Yves Delpérié is the one pursuing the cases:

“I decided to pursue the people who try to evade the law and it’s a first,” he says, a someone who also has the worry of driver safety. “I’m awoken every night because people are getting killed on the road. It’s lamentable that certain people warn others of the installation of speed controls,” he says, irritated by these practices which.

Spot the policeman: Forces of law and order are having to resort to ever more extreme measures to do their job

Spot the policeman: Forces of law and order are having to resort to ever more extreme measures to do their job

Along with nine others, David Alègre will be going before the law: “I’m being prosecuted because I’m being likened to a radar detector!” he says, stunned to be questioned on the matter. He’s a an articulated lorry driver who is constantly on the road and got into the habit of alerting other members without ever imagining that one day, the gendarmes would summons him for doing so.

As far as his lawyer Rémy Josseaume is concerned, the communication of information on the Net doesn’t come into the area of forbidding whistle-blowers who, following a decree of the 4th of January 2012, are not allowed to alert others of the presence of radar guns.

“So if we prosecute these Aveyronnais, we should also be prosecuting the gendarmes!” says the lawyer, citing a Facebook page of the Gendarmerie of Yvelines that informs people on the speed camera points due to be installed.

The prosecutor is sure of his case as it is, he says, based on reasonable grounds for caution and road safety. But then, what of certain other websites such as Coyote which warns its members not only of speed radars but also of danger zones ahead?

“I’m not familiar with its content but there is, it seems to me, a certain hypocrisy in the way it operates.”

Some people such as Chantal Perrichon of the Ligue Contre la Violence Routière (anti-road violence league) would like to see a clarification in this area: “The way the Prosecutor of Aveyron is going is good and it’s courageous,” she says.

For now, the law doesn’t allow for the closure of the FB page under the radar and it still continues to operate. But those who keep it going could expose themselves to a summons before the courts: “If they are identified, nothing prevents us from prosecuting them,” warns the magistrate.

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