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News Story 28. News Headlines.
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It is the latest ruse on the roads of France... drivers are avoiding disqualification by trading licence points on the internet.
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Complete strangers are taking the rap for speeding offences in return for up to €1,500 [£1,000] and police admit they are powerless to intervene.  Even pensioners who have not driven for many years are getting in on the act.
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The online scam is also popular in Spain and other European countries... and authorities believe it may soon be introduced in Britain.  It threatens to make a mockery of a French crackdown on road safety and embarrass President Sarkozy over his promise of a "zero tolerance" on law and order.
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In France a clean licence has 12 points.  Points are then deducted when an offence is committed.  Now motorists are 'selling' their clean points for hundreds of euros each to drivers who are on the verge of disqualification.
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Advertisements on the internet offer points for sale at prices ranging from €300 in the Paris region to more than €1,500 in rural areas.  "I have 12 points on my licence.  If you need them for work or your holidays, I can help you," said a typical offer yesterday on the French eBay auction site.  Another on a small-ad site said: "I suggest you keep your points and I’ll sell you up to six at €700 each."
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The technique is simple.  In return for money, the seller provides his or her name and licence number in response to the speed camera ticket.  The notice that is automatically sent to the owner of the offending vehicle includes a form for identifying another driver.  Checks are extremely rare.
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The black market... which the authorities admit they are unable to prevent... is an unintended consequence of stronger enforcement of the highway code... and especially of an exploding number of speeding tickets since automatic radar was installed on French roads on 2003.
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Some eight million points are deducted from French licences each year through the operation of 1,000 speed cameras... which were introduced by Mr Sarkozy when he was Interior Minister.  An estimated 70,000 licences were cancelled last year... compared with 21,000 in 2003.
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Another consequence has been a steep rise in the number of people driving while disqualified.  Some experts estimate that unlicensed drivers are at the wheel of up to 8 per cent of vehicles on the road.
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It has become routine in families of all classes for repeat offenders to ask friends and relatives with clean licences to lend their names.  This explains an apparently steep rise in bad driving by older citizens.  The rate of offences by drivers over 65 jumped 38 per cent from 2003-05... when the speed cameras began to bite.
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Substituting another driver for a speeding ticket carries a €1,500 fine.  Sellers can also be prosecuted for "complicity in false accusation".  The Government of Dominique de Villepin... the last Prime Minister... ordered a €20 million effort to find ways of combating points fraud... but the process has so far reached no conclusion.
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Officials acknowledge that the state is swamped with the administration of automatic fines.  The Interior Ministry said that it carries out spot checks... "For example... suspicion will be raised if an 84-year-old grandmother is snapped at 200 kph [160mph] at five on a Sunday morning near a nightclub," he told le Parisien newspaper.
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Jean-Baptise Iosca, a lawyer who specialises in motoring cases, said that the borrowing and buying of licence points now touched every social class.  "I have clients coming to see me after losing not only all their own points but also 12 from their grandmother and all their grandfather’s," he said.
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The illegal market is fuelled by a widespread belief that there is something immoral and un-French about the enforcement of the 15-year-old points system with speed cameras.
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Polls show many believe that 'les radars' have been installed as an unfair ploy to make money for the state.  Dozens of installations on motorways and major roads have been vandalised.  Eighty per cent of offences are for under 20 km/h excess speed... yet each eats two points from the licence.  The loss of all 12 triggers a six-month suspension plus the obligation to retake the driving test.
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Some points sellers argue that they are performing a social service... saving the licences of people who depend on their vehicles for their living.  "When you are on the road all day for your work, it is impossible to avoid being caught," said Pierre-Yves, a 45-year-old businessman from Nantes who sells points at €700 each.  "I don’t have a bad conscience," he told le Parisien.  "I only offer my services to people with small excesses of speed.  And I always ask to see a copy of the ticket.  I would never sell my points to a road hog."
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French officials were unable to estimate the scale of points fiddling.  Across the border in Spain, an online motoring site, estimates the black market in points there is worth about €30 million a month.  One internet user in Spain listed his grandmother’s licence points for €250 each, plus the cost of any traffic fines.  "I have persuaded the poor woman to renew her licence, with the sole objective of having more points," he said.  "At the moment, I am going to use them, but if anyone is interested we could reach an agreement."
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Elena Extxegoyen, a Spanish MP, said that families were trading points among themselves while foreigners, who do not lose points on their licenses, were offering to take responsibility for speeding tickets for a fee.
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