Pompe à fric

If there is one thing that is uniformly reviled by the French, it is a radar trap. They call such revenue-generating devices ‘des pompes à fric’ – ‘fric’ being slang for cash, bread, dough or moolah.

“But what’s wrong with radars if they force people to slow down?” I asked many years ago, all innocence, when friends were ranting about how ‘vicieux’ were such machines. Surely you couldn’t have a cop on every corner, I continued, and speed limits are set for a reason – to save lives.

The conversation ground to a halt. I felt all eyes upon me. Was she kidding? A pause. Then, one of our friends very nicely explained that such devices were not intended to get people to slow down. In fact, they were strategically positioned just where they knew you would drive above the limit. On purpose. To earn money.

“Ce sont des pompes à fric!”

“C’est scandaleux!”

You cannot argue with the French when they are convinced they are right. Which is to say 99% of the time.

I am no speed demon. Husband likes to joke that I get traffic tickets for driving too slowly. This is categorically untrue – I don’t even think there is a minimum speed limit. But it is true that I hate driving on the motorway and avoid it like the plague. Too many cars, not to mention trucks, driving too fast and too close. So I take the scenic route, often shorter in klicks but far, far longer in time.

The odd thing is that on city roads I am impatient and always in a hurry. Which leads me to get a certain number of speeding tickets, usually for going just a kilometer or two above the limit. Fortunately, most of these occur on the Swiss side of the border, where the law is more forgiving. First of all, they give you a margin of 5 km/hour. Also, they don’t deduct points for minor infractions (at least that I’m aware of) as they do in France. The tickets take a while to reach us, but they do get here eventually.

The proliferation of photo radar machines and traffic enforcement cameras on all major routes (click on the map to get an idea) means that you must constantly be on the lookout – or, alternatively, drive the speed limit. Stop when the light turns red.

Try that in France, however, and you may just get rear-ended. At the very least honked at, insulted and made to feel like an outsider.

Which is pretty well par for the course.

When was the last time you got a speeding ticket?


  1. zipfslaw1 · March 30, 2017

    Thank you for the expression “pompe à fric”!

    In the US, for many years I drove to work in the morning along a road that passed in front of several schools. When school is in session, the speed limit drops to 20 mph in front of the schools themselves. Seulement voilà, school is not in session during the summer time, and my good habit of slowing down in front of schools is invariably lost by the time school starts in the fall…and I invariably kick off the school year by getting a ticket from one of the radar trucks. The thing is: you really cannot complain about it if you get a ticket in front of a school, so I just pay my ticket and resolve to do better in the future…and I do, until the next school year.

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      Ha, ha! Glad it spoke to you. Maybe you can use ‘pompe à fric’ as a mnemonic to help you remember next September!

  2. phildange · March 30, 2017

    Ha Ha ! You chose a theme that speaks a lot to me . These speed radars are my nightmare .They make me stay home for they broke one of my favourite pleasures that combined technique and art : driving . I was happy to drive from the Spanish border to Paris, to drive from here to Copenhaguen, I drove 10 000 miles around the USA in 2 months, it was an extreme pleasure because I practiced a sort of Zen doing it . Lightning reflexes, permanent anticipation, very accurate reactions, allowed me to get a certain state of consciousness that transcended official driving, I was one with the car, the road, the other parasites on the road and the universe around . It is not a fiction, this faculty actually saved my life in three occasions while driving in third world countries, where obvious safety rules are not guaranteed on the roads, in Morocco, Mexico and Egypt . (That’s what I tried to explain by a letter to the judge the first time they suspended my driving license . Surprisingly it didn’t work, they had probably hired a Swiss or a Swede) .
    You must know I live in a very flat region, sparsely populated, you can drive 25 kms between two villages with often 8 kms long straight lines, and it is ridiculous to impose the same speed limit as in the Alps for instance . Add also that when i was a boy the only question we asked between mates was “How fast is your father’s car ?” Speed was the only thing that mattered for all of us, it was the base of ads for many cars and when my Dad took me twice a month to a rugby match, 50 miles away, he sometimes drove at 120 mph .
    This is normal life for me, and it is not because the sheep have been mentally twisted that I want to change . I enrage to see how the French lost their rebellious spirit in general but this driving ukases are a highlight for me . And as usually this shit came from the States ! Yes, the first speed radars I heard of were in 1979 in my all around the USA trip . I didn’t know those things existed and my first French ticket due to them was in 1993 . Now I only have 4 points out of 12 left on my license, 4 points out plus 3 months of suspension, then 3 points, then one point for driving at 113 kph instead of 110 on a 4 ways road . So now I stay home, waiting for the revolution or a Jupiterian invasion .

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      Finding a topic that will push your buttons is like a lottery win, Phil — unexpected and so much fun. You always have so many stories to tell and information to share! I would LOVE to have your zen driving skill. This, as with anything involving speed, for me is terrifying. Even driving in a straight line gets me anxious. 😉 Hope you keep your precious points and stay roadworthy!

      • phildange · March 30, 2017

        You know the only place on earth I loved for its driving ? It is (was) southern Italy . I specify southern because the north is as dull as Europe . The last time I could drive and have fun was there . These people drive extremely well, I notice these things because I always look at who the driver before me is – a woman, an old timer imply they can panic and have bad reactions if I artistically overtake them for instance – and I was stunned to see even old folks were so good . They are like me, they don’t respect arbitrary rules but they perfectly see and properly react . See, Northern Europe, USA and now France driving is desperately boring for me . On the other hand driving in Egypt or India is like a lottery and you need Ra and Shiva’s bless to survive . But southern Italy was perfect . Once I followed a German bloke and it was obvious the man was having the bliss of his life driving in this paradise after years in Respect-All-Rules-Reich . I could nearly hear him shout in ecstasy . Of course local cops there were well-trained . I was seen by one while overtaking a lorry on a very long straight line with a stupid continuous line in the middle . For one second, forgetting where I was, I had a “Gasp !” But hey, all the cop did was shaking his finger as a schoolmaster with a naughty boy . Useless to say that several kms before a damn radar the 30 cars you crossed were frantically flashing their headlights . When I die I hope my region in Heaven will be like southern Italy .

  3. francetaste · March 30, 2017

    Oh zipfslaw1, I thought you had to dry 20 mph (or sometimes it’s 15) all year round! I haven’t gotten a ticket for it, because I slowed down in time, but I did notice the other cars slowing to a crawl on a summer day and then realized there was a school.
    Near relatives in Belgium, there’s a school in the middle of nowhere, and the speed limit is 30 kph. Husband always slams on the brakes, even at 2 a.m., to inch along to the other side of the school. Obviously no kid is going to be out walking around at that hour. However, once, we did see a speed trap set up right next to the school zone, around midnight.
    Husband was a speed demon in Belgium, but when we moved here and his job required lots of driving, I convinced him to change–that we couldn’t afford him losing his job from losing his driver’s license and he didn’t have a bunch of connected pals to brush it off. However, he is Mr. Literal, so he drives at 90 where the speed limit is 90. Never 91, but never 89 either. No matter what. Same thing in town: 50, regardless of conditions. It’s his right, he says. When he gets to the city limit sign, he is at 90 for the front of the sign and at 50 for the back of it, decelerating in less than a centimeter. I always think I’m going to throw up.
    Here, I’ve had the same experience of defending the radar. I wish there were more of them. People tear through the village at 70 or 90 kph, when even 50 is too much for the narrow street and tiny sidewalks (a neighbor has had a dozen cars land in her garden over the years, after losing control). And the number of crumbled/moved concrete guard posts shows that cars regularly jump the sidewalk.
    Radars don’t target drivers for by type of car or race of driver. OTOH, they don’t give any margin. I know somebody who was flashed by cops with binoculars at 53 kph instead of 50 (going down a hill in the village). Big fine and a point off the license. That seemed excessive. If you’re at 53, it means you’re making an effort, vs. the hotheads at 70. But the gendarmes aren’t allowed to hide, so most cop-hating French drivers flash their lights to warn others to slow down. Otherwise, those Audi and BMW drivers would have lost their licenses (and maybe some have). I routinely flash my lights as I leave my village (when there are no cops) and enjoy seeing arriving drivers slow down as they are supposed to. And no, I’ve never gotten a ticket.
    In 10-15 years this will change. We won’t drive our cars and they won’t speed. The hotheads will have to get their thrills playing video games while in the car, since they won’t have to drive it.

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      I just love it when a post of mine sparks discussion among my bloggees! (Is that a word?) I confess to being confused about the rules around those school zones too. For a long time I also assumed they were permanent limits but someone recently mentioned that it was winter break so no need to slow down. Between the excessive rules and the lackadaisical attitude of many, there must be a line of wisdom. As for driverless cars, I welcome them if they free me to focus on things more interesting than the number on the speedometer.

  4. Osyth · March 30, 2017

    I know a woman, here in Grenoble, who was fined for driving too slowly – no kidding! Not me though. The last time I got a ticket was in my first 6 months here in France Driving from home to Lyon using the scenic route for the very reasons you outline so eloquently which merely equate to base fear for me, I managed to be driving at 72 in a 70. Since then I have been a woman possessed and obsessed with les pompes a fric …. they shall not fine me again! By the way, my mother is 84 and got her first speeding ticket in England last year. She was livid. Kept her lively for months!!!

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      How interesting. Wonder how fast she was going? Another interesting point is your mom (aside from the giggle I got imagining her outrage!): do you think she is a safe driver? I only ask because the idea of making people over a certain age get a checkup to ensure they have all their faculties often comes up. Personally I would be for this (and why not for everyone – every 5 years or so?), but the French are mostly radically opposed. A friend of my beau-père’s still drives and he is 92 – quite deaf and unsteady on his feet. I fear for his – and others’ – safety.

      • Osyth · March 30, 2017

        Caution … another of those things I’ve done alert! I trained as a driving instructor once upon a thousand years ago. Sadly what I had thought would be a great fit for a single mum of 4 was the opposite because everyone wanted lessons when I wanted to be at home keeping a weather eye on the brats and mopping up disasters and all those other mother things we just took in our collective stride. I am EVANGELICAL actually about speed limits. It’s the law. It’s the limit. Stick to it. And I believe that everyone should retake their driving test regularly throughout their tenure as a qualified driver. We all let bad habits creep in, we all get complacent and it would be a good revenue earner and one I would happily sign up to … let’s say it should be more frequent in the first phase (so maybe after 3 years and then again after five) then stretch out for a while (every 10 years) and as you crest certainly 70, it becomes more frequent so that people like my mum who remembers the hardship of having a GP reluctant to tell HER mother that she should hand over the keys are in the hands of the law. I know many will tell me I am a fascist and maybe I am but when I read about people killed and dreadfully injured by cars and when I remember my father saying that if the motor car was invented now it would simply not pass the safety tests because it is too dangerous and when I remember taking my Class A driving test and having to literally relearn driving to have a cats chance of passing it because I had, oddly enough adopted bad habits and become complacent, when I add all those things up I really and truly can’t imagine why all countries just don’t adopt my clear and good sense.

      • Osyth · March 30, 2017

        Oh, and I imagine, knowing her less than 10kmh … I kid you not! X

      • MELewis · March 30, 2017

        Osyth for President! 😉

      • Osyth · March 30, 2017

        Yeehah … that would be uber scary!

  5. Lisa @ cheergerm · March 30, 2017

    We call them ‘revenue collectors’ as well. I do think they serve a purpose but sometimes they are put in places where you just have to wonder whether it’s safety the council has in mind or a bit of extra cash? I got one late last year and was mightily ashamed of myself…(red face….) but that was the first in a while….I wasn’t speeding much over the limit it but it was in a school zone and I thought the time had finished but I had just miscalculated… lesson learnt.

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      Seems like it’s a global trend to tax drivers directly via the ‘revenue collectors’. 😉 I get annoyed but not embarrassed to get flashed – I save the red-faced part for when a pedestrian suddenly decides to cross and it’s too late to stop. Happens more than it should too.

  6. dunnasead.co · March 30, 2017

    Here in Germany, fighting the money collector machines has beccome a state of the art people vs the burocracy game. (recently the government hired the university to build special smaller machines that no longer flash and can’t be avoided by hanging a cd in front of the driver’s face to reflect back) So now there is a special hot line to the local radio station, which broadcasts the position of the radar traps whenever sited. (And some think a couple of police secretaries are helping out.) Not that saving lives is wrong, but to change a right of way sign for two days, no one knows why, collect, and then move on with the sign has a lot of people up in arms.

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      The only place I have ever felt more terrified than on a French motorway was on the German autobahns. Forgive me, I know you guys are excellent drivers, but I am easily unnerved by speed and the airport drivers that serve the Frankfurt area seem to max out their motors! 😉 I think it is cultural — and in Germany you have a longstanding tradition of being allowed to drive very fast. Also, those radar traps sound very sneaky. And I love the devious ways the citizens manage to fight back!

      • dunnasead.co · March 30, 2017

        thanks for writing. Ps I’m actually an american, who married german and has lived here for years. And you are definitely right about the autobahns. And since the number of cars here has quadrupled lately…

  7. memoirsofahusk · March 30, 2017

    I hesitate to say so, tempting fate, but I have never, ever got a ticket for speeding. I believe in obeying laws even if I disagree with them – I don’t think most people would accept a person shoplifting because they disagreed with the law… Sigh, That makes me sound very tedious I know, but to be fair, I have been lucky, because I used often to break the speed limit accidentally. But now, I do pay attention. And I hate it when I am in a 20 or 30 mph zone and someone overtakes me. But I think I find it more serious on motorways when people drive ridiculous speeds. I once sat in the passenger seat of my boss’s car – he had missed a train for an urgent appointment and drove at over 120 mph for about 120 miles! I was terrified and after he went had to drive his car back to the office. I drove the wrong way down a one way road! Had to stop and drink tea and cake to revive myself!

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      What a harrowing experience! Being with your boss – or any coworker – in such a scary situation must have been socially awkward. You can hardly let it show how you’re feeling, right? As for obeying the letter of the law, I’m a bit schizophrenic and also have a sliding moral scale on certain subjects. For example, the bank machine near us recently issued 200 Swiss franc bills instead of 100, and I didn’t report it. Which may not technically be stealing, but is in fact stealing. But no worries, the bank caught up with me (along with several hundred other users, some of whom had returned several times….)

  8. George Lewis · March 30, 2017

    How can they fine and charge points to a driver when he or she can not be identified? In Ontario and many US states photo radar has been thrown out because of this and public outrage.European justice is nonexistent.

    • phildange · March 30, 2017

      It is not up to that point . The owner of the car receives the ticket by mail, on the ticket there is a paragraph made for a contestation, like “It wasn’t me driving, it was the a…hole named xxx”, Then xxx signs it and it’s OK . If xxx.doesn’t accept you can kidnap one of his children or force him to watch a reality show for 10 hours . Any option usually works .

    • MELewis · March 30, 2017

      They have a photo. If you want to contest that it you can, but as Phil says the cost just goes up. Bottom line: if you’re pretty sure it was you, you just pay it and STFU.

  9. Mél@nie · April 2, 2017

    hahaha!!! ya bcp de “pompes à fric” par chez nous, aussi… 😀 we loved driving in North America(both the US and Canada), as people do respect le code de la route, they aren’t aggressive and mostly polite and courtois… 🙂
    * * *
    @”When was the last time you got a speeding ticket?” – we’ve NEVER gotten a speeding ticket… I’m serious!

  10. emilycommander · April 6, 2017

    It must be the season for rage against speeding tickets. I had not heard the machines called pompes a fric, but that it exactly what they are (which is exasperating for people who just want to follow the law and stick within the limit). It’s even more of a racket when you reach the point of having to pay to do a pointless stage to get rid of all the points you have clocked up. GRRRRRRRRRR.

    • MELewis · April 6, 2017

      Not there yet personally but it could be coming if ever they take off points based on tickets from the Swiss radars – they are even more vicious than in France! I’m all for self-driving cars if they can help drive within the limit – one less thing for drivers to worry about. In the meantime, may you keep calm and carry on driving!

  11. Pingback: Life in the fast lane | Lost in Lyon
  12. Girl Gone Gallic · April 14, 2017

    I regularly get tailgated, even when going the speed limit or above… Frustrating!

    • MELewis · April 14, 2017

      It’s not you – it’s the French. In their genes, Lol. 😉

      • phildange · April 14, 2017

        Not true . It’s in half of bad drivers genes, the other half being ugly in a different way . I’m a true French and i do exactly the opposite, but the fake French who opposed our several revolutions, collaborated with the Nazis and listen to ads or disco music for sure like tailgating .

      • Girl Gone Gallic · April 14, 2017

        Lol! So true. ..

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