The little car you can drive in France without a licence

If you are planning on driving in France, beware – one could be heading straight for you at the next roundabout. Carolyn Brown, who lives part of the year in Brittany, has a cautionary tale about a very small car.

Losing one’s driving licence in the UK is a serious matter – expensive and, to say the least, very inconvenient.

But in France, no licence? No problem. You can simply go shopping for a VSP a voiture sans permis – a small two-seater car that anyone aged 14 or over can take out on the road with as little as four hours’ experience behind the wheel, sometimes not even that.

It’s impossible to say how many there are as no official figures exist. It is what the French call a chiffre noir – an unknown quantity.

You’ll probably hear them coming first, a high-pitched whine like a sewing machine being run at full throttle. If you get stuck behind one on a windy rural lane, tant pis. Top speed is 45km per hour (28mph). It’s probably a good idea to stop in the next lay-by and admire the view for a while rather than sit fuming in its wake.

On market day in my nearest town here in Brittany the little voitures sans permis splutter into the main street. Although the literal translation is “car without licence” it is in fact the driver who doesn’t need to bother himself or herself with any proof of ability behind the wheel.

Once seen as an anachronism that, given time, would inevitably be legislated out of existence they remain a vital means of transport for an ageing rural population.