Sans Permis

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Americans talk a lot about freedom but have less of it in many ways than people do in other countries.

France, for instance.

Over there, you can legally buy and drive a car without a license – sans permis – which is something that’s very illegal to do here.

In France there is a whole class of cars – everything from clapped out Hoopties to brand new and warranted – that are not only legal to drive without any kind of government-issued permission slip or ear tag (as here) you don’t even have to be sixteen- years-old to do so.

You can drive a voitures sans permis – a “car without a license” – at fourteen and not have to worry about being hut! hut! hutted! by a gaggle of tacticooled and buzz-cut armed government workers. It’s all perfectly legal. The only requirements are that you pass a cursory written exam about French traffic laws and attest that you have “driven accompanied for a minimum of four hours.”

Proof of this is not required.

It is generally assumed that if you are driving, you probably already can. Thus, you are left alone unless you cause a problem. A real problem, as opposed to a manufactured one, such as not having a government-issued permission slip. If you crash, if you hurt someone (more than just their feelings) then you’ll deal with the gendarme. Otherwise… not.


These VSPs are small – and not very powerful. They are restricted to a top speed of about 30 MPH. But unlike say a scooter – which you can still legally operate here in the land-of-the-less-and-less-free without a government permission slip – the VSP is a car, enclosed and protected from the weather.

Put another way, the French government doesn’t punish people sans permis by essentially telling them: If you want to drive a car – and not get soaked or freeze in the cold – then you’ll have to wait until you are at least sixteen and get a license, regardless.

On top of that, you’ll also have to buy a bunch of expensive saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety equipment you maybe don’t want – regardless of your age.

New VSP cars, in startling contrast to what goes on here, can be ordered with amenities such as air conditioning and stereos, just like other new cars – but unlike other new cars, VSP cars are not required to have air bags or other government-mandated saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety equipment and thus, even 14-year-olds can afford to buy and drive one.


They are also by dint of this simplicity cheap to keep. Backyard fixable.

They are thus also a very low-cost way for adults on a budget – or who just prefer not to spend a fortune on wheels – to get from A to B – a freedom which American adults don’t enjoy much anymore.

In this country, everyone has to get a government permission slip to legally drive any kind of car – and that permission is heavily restricted until the age of 21. At which point, a driver is finally freed from the fear of being arrested and caged for being a “drunk” driver because he registered .000001 on a blood alcohol test at a Stasi-style checkpoint, on the basis of “zero tolerance” laws in effect for the under 21.

Any detectable amount of alcohol in an under-21 driver’s blood or breath – or in his car – and it’s Hut! Hut! Hut! Time for the ol’ cuff n’ stuff. This means an empty beer can someone else left in the back seat a week ago and you are now sans permis – and no longer driving.

If you live here.

In France –  a freer place – such tyrannies do not exist.

In France, a 14-year-old kid can bank two years of on-the-road driving experience before an American kid can legally drive at all.

The retort, of course, is a predictable keening about how unsaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe it all must be. And yet, it’s not. Turns out that the traffic fatality rate in the oh-so-saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe United States is almost twice that of laissez faire France: 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people each year vs. 5.1 per 100,000 people in France.

In plain language, it is safer to drive among the sans permis in France than it is in the ear-tagged, permission-slipped United States.

Perhaps because the French can start driving years earlier and so people – especially younger people – get the real-world driving experience that is denied to American teens. Perhaps also because people who drive a VSP are more tuned into their driving – as well as the driving environment – because they better be. They know their VSP car does not have air bags and all of the other saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety Band Aids mandated by the government.

American drivers, on the other hand, are essentially told: Don’t worry, if you pile-drive into a tree because you were texting instead of paying attention to your driving, the air bag will save you.

And so they text.

American drivers are also increasingly absolved of responsibility for not maintaining safe following distances or slowing to account for weather/visibility changes; the car has automated emergency braking and steering assist, you see.

American drivers aren’t no longer expected to attain minimum competences such as demonstrating that they can parallel park a car. Most new cars do that automatically, too.

Americans are taught that safety is not competent driving. Safety is mandates and permission slips emanating from government bureaucracies. And yet, these haven’t kept us nearly as safe as France’s more relaxed – and far more free – approach to dealing with driving.

. . .

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  1. It’s too bad the America of my youth has devolved into the Land of the Not-So-Free. And there’s nothing I see on the horizon to reverse this trend.

  2. Americans want to have a civil war over homosexuals, abortion, and illegal immigrants, but no one cares that the USA is a bankrupt warmongering police state.

  3. I wouldn’t say that Frogland is a freer country…… They may have this one little perk concerning driving….but really, a country where you can be hauled into court and face fines and imprisonment for expressing an un-PC opinion, or merely insulting someone; or for merely expressing your own belief feelings, which may be deemed as “wrong” by the state, should NEVER ever be connected in any way to the word “free”- it’d be like saying that you’re “free” in Claifornia, because you can legally smoke a doob there.

    Also, France’s CPS/and laws relating to parent-children relationships, would make the very worst of our nanny states look Galt’s Gulch by comparison.

    Every collectivist police state throws the people a scrap of a bone once in a while….. Amongst the midst of all the other tyranny, it seems like a great liberation.

  4. Those things remind me of Smart cars.

    Though, the vehicle one of my relatives uses for him & his wife to commute to work is a SmartEV.

    Which easily charges overnight via a standard (120VAC) electric outlet.

    And he’s a used car dealer!

  5. I would not use France as an example for anything other than a comparison between it and a turd. That Country is one big speed trap (citing people for 1Km over a Limit). In July that piece of shit land lowered the speed limit on B roads from 90Km/h to 80 (55MPH to 50) and the revenue from fines has increased fourfold. Fuck France!

  6. Treat people under 16 like capable, competent beings and they’ll do their best to respond as such.

    Tell them all the things they can’t do until such-and-such an age, and they’ll be obliged to continue taking on minimal responsibility well past the time that they’re expected to become functional adults.

    • Well-said Moose!

      My protege is 16, has a car and a job to support it (mostly the obnoxious insurance). My other buddy has a kid the same age who sits home and games all day. No driver’s license. He still gets driven everywhere by his dad (my friend).

      It makes me sad and slightly ill-feeling.

      • Even before they had their permits, my dad helped my brothers get a couple little pickup trucks for woods runnin, playin headlight tag in our field, beatup old nissans and mazdas that they’d work on and zip around our property in with their buddies just for fun. Good for em

  7. Japan also has it’s Kei cars as well. Which sadly are now being taxed more than before. Not as free as France’s version and probably still more of a pain than having a car in Japan but still something less regulated.

    Instead of small easy to handle cars the US will continue forcing ever more complex and expensive vehicles down our throats.

  8. There is another thing most kids aren’t allowed to do anymore. Pilot a small watercraft like a fishing, speed boat, jet ski or pontoon boat (generally things under 15 ft). Years before I could drive a car, I had a few years of summer small boat experience since no license was needed. And its great experience because boats don’t have brakes like cars do. So you have to plan ahead when its time to stop. People aren’t happy when you ram their piers (nor let you borrow their boats when you put holes in them).

    But now you need a license (in Michigan anyway) to pilot a boat now (though us folks before 1978 are grandfathered). Nobody under 16 now too. Though my great uncle let my 12 year old nephew pilot the pontoon boat last summer when the hero wasn’t on the lake. He loved it. I hope his feelings for car driving are similar, but I haven’t heard him talk about it. I was by his age though, so not a good sign.

    But I doubt my sister in law will encourage driving at 16 either. I am thinking that I should volunteer to teach him to drive so he doesn’t only hear state mandated clover driving. I don’t want him driving like the way they teach the kids now.

    • In Iowa if you are piloting a boat and blow over .08 BAC it count’s as a DWI and you lose your drivers license and get to pay thousands in fines along with a stint in jail.

      Gone are the days of enjoying a day on the lake with a cooler of beer. I miss the old days.

  9. It’s interesting that the BBC article linked to in your article seems to just ooze matronly disapproval of this these French freedom cars. The Clover who wrote it seems to be horrified that these cars exist, and the article implies that their only purpose it to allow drunks, children and other ne’er-do-wells to threaten and inconvenience their betters.

  10. There’s another huge difference in France vs the US; the drinking age. In France, it’s normal for kids, even pre-teen, to be given a little bit of wine with dinner to share with their families. It’s not taboo, nobody gets in a huff about it, so when these kids do start to drive, they already know what drinking means, so you have a lot less drinking and driving.

    Here, in the US, I’ve noticed that people go on a bender when they turn 21, then drive buzzed quite a bit, because they haven’t experienced drinking until this point.

    I don’t care what the law is. My kids are learning to drink before they drive, and I will teach them how to do both before I unleash them on the world on their own.

    • Prohibition is why alcohol is a problem. If a child grows up getting a little bit wine or beer on holidays or whatever then when they can get themselves legally or not it isn’t a big deal. But when it is prohibited then it is a big deal and a problem. There’s no need to even have experience getting buzzed or drunk, just being able to have some takes all the wonder out of it. I didn’t particularly like the beer my dad would buy so I didn’t even drink beer until I was 22 and friends of mine introduced me to something other than that and the cheap stuff.


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