Recently a little red car has taken to nosing its way, extremely cautiously, down the lane. It chugs past the house at about 5 miles per hour, halts nervously at the crossroads and, after an extended pause, pulls into the road at an agonisingly slow pace and sets off laboriously towards Lamastre. Some time later the process is reversed and we see the driver peering anxiously over the steering wheel as she makes her way back up the hill. It is at this point that you realise that the car has not got a front number plate – it is a voiture sans permis, referred to by Markus for reasons fathomable only to himself as a “yoghurt pot”, and the bane of the French highways.
Before we get onto everything that is wrong with a system that allows totally unlicensed people to drive around in things that look like cars and act like cars but somehow escape all the regulations that other vehicles and their drivers have to adhere to, it is worth mentioning the particular circumstances surrounding our local red peril. Our neighbour Pascal (the wizard with the digger) comes from a family which has been regularly visited by tragedy, including several suicides and a brother who was crushed under one of his own combine harvesters. Recently his wife lost a long struggle with cancer, leaving him with two young children and his business, contracting work with earth-moving and agricultural machinery, to run. Pascal is out in all weathers and all hours, frequently returning long after dark in the summer harvesting season, so his mother in law, a widow herself, has moved in to help with the children. The snag is that she does not drive and it is essential to be mobile in our neck of the woods. The yoghurt pot is her salvation and one can only be pleased that this solution helps a family in need to get by.
HOWEVER . . . . !
Officially described as a voiturette these vehicles are to be encountered all over France (though fortunately they are banned from motorways) and are the most alarming things on the road in a country already noted for its alarming driving styles. Weighing 350kg, they have a 50cc engine, and a top speed of 45 kmph. The two seaters look exactly like any other small car, but are only required to have a license plate on the rear. Insurance and seatbelts are obligatory and only one passenger is allowed. But the real cruncher is the fact that you do not need to have, or to have ever held a license in order drive them (that is unless you are under twenty five, in which case you are required to take five hours (!) of on and off road instruction). Anyone else, from 26 to 126 can set off with cheerful insouciance and potter around, oblivious to other road users.
A very elderly, and very well lubricated neighbour of ours regularly used to roll up (still wearing his slippers) to visit Roger’s father, frequently ending up in the bank or stuck in the ditch, and puzzled that Kate did not seem to resemble his old friend as he last remembered seeing him! Yoghurt pots are the ideal solution for those who have lost their license for drunk or dangerous driving, who are a bit shaky and can no longer see that well, who remember the lanes and byways of their youth but are unfortunately unaware of the increase in speed and traffic.
Do not imagine that the yoghurt pot bears any resemblance to the sort of mobility scooter that terrorises the high street in many English towns. These are classy looking vehicles which retail for around 14,000 euros. The leading manufacturer is Aixam, based in the town of Aix les Bains with its production plant located at Chanas, about 40 miles north of us just across the Rhone.
On their website AIXAM presents its new Coupé range.
The precise, sharp lines are the sign of a classy model, a sculpted silhouette that exudes dynamic elegance. Each finishing touch is profiled to make the sensations stronger. YOUR COUPE IS UNIQUE: CONFIGURE YOUR BESPOKE MODEL
From a wide range of colours and decorative finishings . . . the colour of your roof, bodywork, decorations . . . have fun customising your Coupé!
Britain beware! They are definitely aiming at a new market. Closer attention to the promotional text reveals that from January 13th 2013 the UK will be brought into line with European licensing laws and anyone over 16 will be able to drive one. So look out for a yoghurt pot coming soon to a road near you!