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French microcars let teens, unlicensed drivers loose

Posted by Bill Griffith  September 23, 2011 05:04 PM

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Here’s a wild law: In France and Italy, teenagers and adults can drive microcars without a driver’s license.

The reason? These tiny two-seater cars, like the Axiam City pictured here, are technically classified as mopeds.

The vehicles are known as microcars, “quadricycles,” or, in France, a “voiture sans permis” (a car that can be driven without a license). Originally, these cars (and there are pickup trucks and cargo van versions) were popular among the elderly. But then those who lost their licenses for drunk or dangerous driving discovered them, as did those too young for a proper license.

Parents, thinking their offspring would be safer at the wheel of an enclosed vehicle than on a moped or scooter, have anted up the $11,000 to $20,000 for the likes of a French-made Aixam, Ligier, or Microcar. Teens in Italy can drive them as young as 14 (even though you have to be 18 to get a license) and in France by those as young as 16.

The difference between them and a properly registered car are size, speed, and weight.

  1. The micro cars are small and sit low, even by European standards, with just two seats.
  2. They cannot exceed 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour) though the mechanically adept soup them up.
  3. They cannot weigh more than 350 kilograms (772 pounds).

Here at home, savvy city dwellers long have used 50cc (and smaller) mopeds and scooters as inexpensive ways to get around crowded urban areas. Easy parking, 70 to 100 miles per gallon, minimal registration costs, and no required insurance are big perks. Among the drawbacks, of course, are no protection from inclement or cold weather and limited cargo capacity.

Now, the rules are getting tighter as the numbers of these vehicles grow and the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles gets a handle on these vehicles.

Those capable of going over 30 mph, but less than 40 mph (the Vespa LX50 or S50 for example) are now classified as “limited-use vehicles” and need to be registered, titled, insured, and inspected to be operated on a public way. Limited use vehicles are prohibited from “limited access” and “express state highways,” and any portion of other roads where the speed limit exceeds 40 mph.

An appropriate class learner’s permit or license is required to operate a limited use vehicle. A “Limited Use Motorcycle” operator would need a motorcycle permit or motorcycle license.

In case you’re wondering, to be classified as a moped in Massachusetts, a vehicle must:

  1. Have a cylinder capacity of no more than 50 cubic centimeters.
  2. Have an automatic transmission.
  3. Be capable of a maximum speed of no more than 30 miles per hour.
  4. Comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.

To drive one, you must:

  1. Be 16 years of age.
  2. Have a valid license of permit.
  3. Not exceed 25 mph
  4. Wear a DOT standard helmet (as does any passenger).

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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