Nanny State

New Markets in Speed


Sarko might not yet have transformed the French economy, but in one area at least, he has created a market where there was none before: driver's license points.

As in many European countries, French drivers start with a total of 12 license points, which they lose for various driving offenses. Getting to zero means an automatic six-month driving ban. During Sarko's reign as Minister of the Interior, he introduced 1,000 more speed cameras across France in a frenzied law and order "crackdown." There are particularly harsh punishments even for mild speeding (under 20kph over the limit)– two points a pop.

But the crackdown has rather misfired: Drivers now see the penalties as universally unfair, and have started a market in license points. Those still with relatively clean records (close to 12 points) sell their points online for 300-1500 euros each to drivers in danger of a suspension. The seller then sends in her license number and name in place of the guilty party, and takes the rap. And the sheer number of cases makes it impossible to check who's who:

Officials acknowledge that the state is swamped with the administration of automatic fines. The Interior Ministry said that it carries out spot checks. "For example, suspicion will be raised if an 84-year-old grandmother is snapped at 200 kph (160mph) at five on a Sunday morning near a nightclub," he told le Parisien newspaper.

Jean-Baptise Iosca, a lawyer who specialises in motoring cases, said that the borrowing and buying of license points now touched every social class. "I have clients coming to see me after losing not only all their own points but also 12 from their grandmother and all their grandfather's," he said.

The solution? Another crackdown. Ex-PM de Villepin began a 20 million Euro investigation to stamp out fraudulent point-claiming, but it has yet to release any findings or suggest any action.

(Thanks to Sahil Mahtani for the tip.)