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How Princess Di’s Tragic Death Helped Make Roads Safer

August marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana. What many people are not aware of, however, is how Di’s tragic death in a Paris tunnel in 1997 significantly changed the driving landscape in France, and made roads in that country safer for all motorists.

After the accident in a Paris tunnel in 1997, French investigators came to the conclusion that the accident was the result of unsafe and dangerous driving practices. In 2002, the French government signed a number of new laws that were specifically designed to help reduce the incidence of unsafe driving. As a result of those laws, traffic accident fatalities in the country actually dropped by as much as one-third.

In the new study, researchers claim that France’s decision to enact traffic safety laws in the aftermath of the tragic and high-profile death significantly improved traffic safety in that country, and may have helped save many lives. In fact, the study suggests that thousands of French lives could have been saved as a result of legislative changes that were enacted. In fact, French road fatalities in the decades after the fatal crash fell by as much as 30% on average, compared with an average of 15% in the United States.

Some of those laws might still have been enacted even if the death hadn’t occurred, but researchers believe that Di’s accident, and all the publicity and controversy surrounding it, definitely helped spur support for the traffic safety legislation.

While some debate remains about certain traffic safety laws and their impact on accidents, researchers say that the French example provides a very strong model and example for other countries that want to enact similar laws. What is also interesting is that the French government went ahead and enacted legislation related to lower speed limits, photo radar, and random alcohol testing in spite of the fact that measures like these were unpopular with the public and were far from a glamorous, vote-getting political tool.

In the United States, similar popular opinion and public demand has spurred legislation, including laws against cell phone use while driving, and laws promoting seatbelt usage. But many other necessary legislative changes, including limits on speeds and random alcohol testing, continue to remain elusive as American society balances constitutional rights with the need to create safe travel.