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Vehicle Registration in France

Friday 01 May 2009

A new system of vehicle registration has been introduced in France, ending a system based on departmental identification.

In future, a vehicle will have a registration for life, replacing the previous system under which each time a vehicle was sold to anyone living outside of the department of the current owner it was necessary to change the licence plate.

This was because the registration of each vehicle was based on the department in which the owner lived.

The system lead to an enormous growth in the number of registration numbers. Whilst there are around 40 million cars on the roads in France, there are 150 million registration numbers in existence!

Car owners who disposed of their vehicle to the tip simply did not notify the préfecture that the car had been destroyed and, as a consequence, it continued to be registered with the authorities.

Not only did this lead to the system becoming saturated, it was also contributing to trafficking of registration numbers.

In an attempt to reduce the administrative costs of the system, and to combat crime, the government concluded that a more practical and secure solution was necessary.

The new plates will comprise seven characters, formed of two letters, three numbers and two letters, as shown in the following example. The new plates will all be uniformly black lettering on a white background.


The first registration plate out of the system - AA-001-AA - has gone to a vehicle museum on the French colony of Reunion.

Existing owners are not being asked to change the registration plates of their vehicle, which only need occur in the event of sale by the new owner. The new system will be operational for second hand cars with effect from 15th June.

Responsibility for the car registration process has also been transferred from the préfectures to accredited car dealers and garages. On the sale of a vehicle, the dealer will undertake the registration process itself and collect the small registration tax on behalf of the government.

The garages will also be able to register those vehicles sold between private owners, although the process can also be undertaken through the préfecture.

There has been strong local political and parliamentary resistance to the introduction of the new system, with many politicians reluctant to abandon the territorial basis of registration. They even formed a pressure group within the French Parliament, called ‘jamais dans mon département ’.

In the end, they managed to persuade the government that a departmental number should remain on the car plates, together with a regional logo, but separate from the main number. However, as vehicle owner can have the departmental number of their choice the number that appears on the new plates, it will offer no guarantee of the place of residence of the owner!

In the event of sale, the new owner is entitled to change the regional and departmental identification.

Alongside introduction of the new plates, the government have also introduced a new registration document, in an attempt to reduce the falsification of these documents. So the traditional ‘carte grise’ will gradually disappear, to be replaced by a more secure biometric document, similar to an identity card.

This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 01/05/2009




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