As many as 2.5 million French motorists, about one in 12 of the country's drivers, have no licence or insurance.
An investigation by Le Parisien newspaper, after two fatal accidents in a week involving unlicensed drivers, found that a growing number of people were taking to the roads while banned or without passing a test.
The French Ministry of Transport's official estimate is that 7.5 per cent of people driving regularly on French roads have no legal right to do so.
Criminologists say that the widespread use of forged driving licences could take the figure up to 10 per cent, or 3.3 million illegal drivers. Many of them are young and come from the deprived inner suburbs of French cities, but others are older people who have been banned from driving or have never bothered to take a test.
The newspaper conducted the survey after a 25-year-old gendarme was killed in a road accident in Brittany last week and a 13-year-old boy was run over and killed north of Paris on Monday. The drivers involved in the accidents had no licence.
A 23-year-old man identified only as Junior, from the northern suburbs of Paris, told the paper he had been driving without a licence for six years and now had a job as a van driver. "When I'm stopped by the police, I say I've left my papers behind. I give the name of someone else who has got a licence and he goes along to the police station instead of me."
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