French motorists finally lose regional differences

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The Independent Online

A subtle, but controversial revolution begins on French roads today. The familiar French number plate, ending in the two digits of the vehicle's département or county, will gradually be replaced by an anonymous, nationwide numbering system. The change has been stoutly resisted in almost all départements save one – Paris. Drivers of cars carrying the "75" code of the capital are often subjected to insulting gestures in the provinces.

After complaints from other départements about loss of identity and injured local pride, the new plate will carry a space for a small regional badge and the two-digit code of the "county".

However, it will not necessarily have to be the département where the car owner lives. Parisians seeking anonymity can, if they wish, display the number of the département where they have a second home or where their grandmother was born or any other département they fancy.

The new system, applicable to all new vehicles from today and second-hand cars from 15 June, is intended to make theft more difficult. The new registrations will consist of two letters, three numbers and two letters, in the form AA-111-AA. The registration will be fixed for the life of the car. Trade in celebrity number plates will be banned.

Under the original proposals, all signs of the local identity of French cars would have been lost. From the dawn of the motoring age, French vehicles have carried numbers ending with the code of the département such as 13 for the Marseilles area (Bouches-du-Rhône) or 14 for Calvados in Normandy. The threatened loss of this badge of identity was seen in some areas as a first step towards the abolition of the 96 départements, created in the early 19th century. To calm the protests, the government agreed to allow a space on the right-hand side of the number plate for a regional badge and the département number of the owner's choice.

The left-hand side of the plate will be reserved for the EU symbol and a capital letter F.

Question time: Spot the département

What is the only number between 01 and 95 not to appear on French number plates, and why?

Where on French soil would you need to be to spot the rarer three-digit département codes 971, 972, 973 and 974?

What does the number 99 refer to?

The answers

The number 20: Until 1975 this identifier was used for Corsica but after that year, the island was split into two – 2A referred to Corse-du-Sud, 2B to Haute Corse.

You wouldn't be anywhere on the French mainland. These three-digit identifiers belong to overseas départements – 971 is Guadeloupe, 972 is Martinique, 973 is French Guyana and 974 is Reunion.

99: The number to which France relegates the rest of the world.