Why Paris Is Banning Cars Made Before 1997

Car ban in Paris
Martyn Goddard / Getty

The automotive landscape of Paris just completely changed. No longer will you see '90s-era Volkswagen Beetles or Audi Quattros of the 1980s jetting up and down the Champs-Elysées, thanks to a recent ban. New regulations instituted by the municipal government of Paris have restricted all cars manufactured before 1997 from city roads. Additionally, the new law also bans motorcycles built before the year 2000. Those who break the new law will be subject to a $40 fine.

The ban has been enacted in hopes that keeping older cars off the streets will lower pollution levels within the city. And while keeping cars that emit higher levels of CO2 out of commission will help combat Paris’s pollution problems, car owners and travelers are left with a lot of questions on how it will effect them.

“Many policies that are enacted to help solve complex problems come along with their own set of problems,” Rebecca Lindland, senior director of commercial insights at Kelley Blue Book, says. “While this does encourage more use of public transportation, there is a population of people who can’t afford to buy a car newer than one manufactured before 1997. Those are the people who are going to be negatively affected the most.” But as Lindland points out, the cars that are currently banned most likely won’t be in use much longer. “This is a problem that will eventually work itself out. These cars will go away due to attrition and retirement of these vehicles, and Paris will naturally get a cleaner fleet. Maybe this is a way to speed up the attrition.”

However, you have to look at the percentage of vehicles this is really going to impact. Christophe Najdovsky, the deputy Paris mayor in charge of transport and public space, says most low-income Parisians actually don't own cars and do take public transport — and that the ban will affect only about 1,000 out of the 600,000 cars on the city's streets every day, according to NPR.

But with more locals, as well as tourists, relying on public transportation, Lindland says that all vehicles should be held to a higher environmental standard. “I’d love to see Paris get cleaner taxis and buses,” she says. “There are ways that the city can keep this law consistent throughout transportation, so that the environmental benefits are greater and not one faction of the population is effected. This is a problem that is solved in layers, and there isn’t one solution. Action must echo for the entire city.”

And while the current statute only affects private car owners, those who have a penchant for classic and antique cars don’t need to worry. “This will change the variety of cars you see in the urban areas, but exceptions for cars with antique or classic automobile certifications will still have access to the roads,” Andrew Beckman, president of the Society of Automotive Historians, says. Exceptions allow older cars that are prohibited during the daytime to enter on weekends, and on weekdays between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Additionally, Parisians and tourists alike will still be able to drive antique cars as long as they have the right stickers. This is similar to the State-regulated antique bans in the U.S., which allow owners of specially plated registered classic cars to drive on Sundays and to and from events without restrictions. “In my experience in the classic car industry, these restrictions work very well,” Beckman says. “Mindful antique owners don’t really have a problem with it, since they usually aren’t interested in putting many miles on their cars in the first place.”

While it may be a difficult transition for some locals, the new bans may inspire talks in the U.S. about how to reduce automobile pollution. “The main thing for people is that this may be one solution for Paris, but this doesn’t mean that it’s applicable to the U.S. — and vice versa,” Lindland says. But in terms of solutions, it needs to be global. The upfront cost of changing our driving habits will be much less than the environmental costs we will face later if we don’t change.”