Speed for Sale

Highway robbery in France


French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in May promising "market-based reforms." Several months later, at least one French market has taken off: the trade in speeding penalties.

A clean French driving license starts with 12 points. Those points can be lost for various driving offenses until, at zero, drivers get a six-month suspension and are required to retake the driving test. Increasingly harsh enforcement of road laws has led to the growth of a black market in license points, which sell on ebay.fr for between $137 and $1,645 each. Those who don't drive much, or who rarely speed, sell their points to those whose jobs or needs depend on their car; the seller just sends in her name and license number in place of the buyer's when a ticket is issued.

Participants in the black market have standards, though. One seller told Le Parisien he doesn't sell his points to just anyone: "I always ask to see a photo of the ticket. I would never sell my points to road hogs."

The practice began in Spain, but it spread to France after a surge in crackdowns on speeding that started in 2003, while Sarkozy was minister of the interior. Jean Philippe Coin, a motoring lawyer in Paris, says the sheer weight of numbers leaves the government helpless: "There is no checking. There is no control." He claims that, with the number of penalties imposed rising dramatically—80,000 licenses were confiscated last year, and 200,000 are expected to be revoked this year—the authorities are simply unable to keep up, so the black market takes over.