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No-licence cars are useful... but also a pest

A little-known law allows 14-year-olds, older people who have never held a driving licence and even those who have lost their licence, to drive on French roads – but the so-called voiturettes arouse different emotions in different road users.

29 March 2017

When we asked readers to tell us their experiences of vehicles, such as the funky Ligier in our main photo, they split into two groups: those who saw vital, safe transport for people, especially in remote areas, and others who saw noisy, slow, mobile road-blocks that just got in the way.

While some people call them véhicules sans permis this is strictly only true for drivers born before 1988, as the law changed so people born after January 1 that year need a permis de conduire avec la catégorie AM.
This is like a provisional licence but youngsters must have completed a theory course at school while also doing a seven-hour practical lesson that combines both driving skills and information about controls and safety.
The two-seater quadricycle léger weighs 350kg minimum, has a 4kW engine – often two-stroke diesel (hence, noisy) but more are electric now. All are limited to a 45kph top speed.

These make up most of the voitur­ette market but a second category, quadricycles lourds, are also available. These four-seaters are not big sellers as drivers need a B1 licence (basically a second €30 theory test, which can be sat at centres run by La Poste).

Wearing seat belts is compulsory and the vehicles, which can also include vans, are banned from both motorways and expressways under a €1,500 penalty or possible loss of car.
Since 2003, drivers guilty of grave offences – drink-driving etc – can be penalised by the loss of their licence plus a ban from driving any vehicle.
If this second penalty is applied they cannot drive at all, not even a quadricycle léger voiture sans permis.

In France, the market leaders are Aixam and Ligier and the latter has a history as a builder of Formula One GP cars. Ligier diversified into tractor cabs in the 1970s and then its first voiture sans permis, the cube-like JS4, with a 50cc Motobécane engine.

Today it has the JS50 with prices from €12,000 upwards with options available. Ligier’s range is cheaper, its Microcars start from €8,600 up to €12,200, with a Flex van at €11,000.
Ligier’s Aurélie Geber said they were “mainly for those in rural areas who don’t have a licence but need transport, or young people, who can drive them from 14 with a permis AM.”
Third-party garantie responsabilité civile insurance is compulsory and full cover costs about €680 a year.

The company prides itself on the security built into the cars, with monobloc chassis, four disc brakes, Easy-Park low-speed assist and even reversing camera. Although mocked as ‘yoghurt pots’, many have Blue­tooth, air-conditioning and are in-demand ‘style’ cars for young people who can afford the price. Parents see them as safer than scooters.

Away from that smart and stylish image, Ligier is also building ‘smart’ EZ10 driverless electric buses which are in use in several countries worldwide, from Australia to California.

It is being tested in Paris, transporting passengers between the Gare de Lyon and Austerlitz stations where it crosses the Pont Saint-Charles on a set route at 15kph with sensors checking that the way ahead is clear.
Developed by Easy Mile and built by Ligier, the EZ10 costs from €200,000 to €250,000 but is not on public sale.

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