Reader Question: What are voitures sans permis all about? They use the same roads as regular cars and are capable of injuring or even killing others but you do not need a driver’s licence. Why is that and are there any rules regarding their use?
It is true that people wishing to drive a licence-free car (or voiture sans permis) in France do not have to hold a full driving licence.
This is because they are slower, more light-weight and cannot drive on fast-moving roads such as motorways.
However, there are still rules restricting their use.
What is a voiture sans permis?
Voitures sans permis generally have two or three-cylinder motors and use a centrifugal gearbox like mopeds. There is usually just one forward and one reverse gear.
They sit between motorcycles and standard passenger vehicles and were historically popular in rural areas - however, after several design changes, they are increasingly being used by teenagers and others in city centres. Their speed is limited to 45kp/h.
They normally have a low fuel consumption, using two or three litres per 100km.
Read more: Explainer: what are the rules on licence-free cars in France?
They cannot be more than three metres long and can be three or four-wheelers.
Who can drive a licence-free car?
It may seem strange that it is not necessary to hold a full driving licence in order to drive a voiture sans permis, but this is because they cannot be driven in the same way as normal cars.
The driver of a voiture sans permis must:
Be at least 14 years old
Not have had their driving licence suspended
Not take more than one passenger in their licence-free car and must not travel on motorways, fast main roads or bypasses.
Have an AM licence (previously – and still commonly called – a brevet de sécurité routière or BSR) if born after 1988.
The BSR allowed someone to drive a motorcycle with an engine size of 50cm³ or less or a licence-free car.
An AM licence enables this as well as the use of quad bikes fitting this description.
The course designed to obtain this type of licence involves a theory exam and eight hours of driving – at least three of which must be in traffic with an instructor – and an hour of risk theory instruction.
The course can cost between €150 and €400.
The BSR or AM permit is valid for 15 years across EU countries.
If you were born before December 31, 1987, you do not need to take the course and must simply make sure that the vehicle is insured.
Since voitures sans permis were first introduced in France, sales have been fairly steady at around 15,000 per year.
However, in 2021 that figure rose to 22,472, partly as a result of the launch of electric models, and partly because they have become more fashionable with teenagers.
Licence-free cars did not used to be subject to a legal requirement to undergo contrôle technique roadworthiness tests, but new legislation set to come into force on October 1 will change the rules on this.
Read more: Do France’s new contrôle technique rules apply to licence-free cars?
Where else are licence-free cars driven?
Licence-free cars are most commonly seen in France (where they are also often made) but they are also used elsewhere including Monaco, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Belgium. However, the rules surrounding driving and parking them may differ slightly in these countries.
They are also used in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia.
The licence-free cars you can drive from age 14 in France