I’d put this one in the “really, really bad idea” column: as of January 1, 2011, French pedestrians will have the absolute right of way over automobiles on surface streets. A pedestrian need only walk out into traffic, motion with his hand for cars to stop, and then may proceed to cross the street. If you’re behind the wheel of a car, the penalty for non-compliance is harsh, and includes a $180 ticket plus points on your license. French lawmakers came up with the idea (undoubtedly after too many glasses of bordeaux) to slow drivers down and to force them to pay more attention. I’ve driven in France (and walked on its streets), and I can tell you that it’s not possible for French drivers to pay any less attention than they do now. Driving in French cities is like driving in a video game; you’ve either got the accelerator mashed to the floor or you’re hard on the brakes trying to avoid being hit by another French driver. In my experience, there isn’t much in between, which doesn’t leave one much time to watch for pedestrians stepping out into the road.
I have a feeling that this isn’t going to go well for either French motorists or French pedestrians, and I suspect that auto body repair shops and funeral parlors will see a dramatic uptick in business after January. I wouldn’t be crazy enough to test the new law myself, and I’d strongly recommend you avoid testing it if France is in your upcoming travel plans. Regardless of who has the right-of-way, pedestrians don’t generally win encounters with cars, and legislation rarely changes a century of ingrained behavior.