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France’s Freaky New Year’s Tradition Of Torching Cars Claims 900

Based on the past few New Year’s Eve car burnings why would anyone leave their car parked outside in France? Many did, and in the tradition of burning them up about 900 were destroyed. This has happened for years on New Year’s Eve. At least 2020 saw a bit of a downturn from last year when 1,500 cars were torched while 1,300 saw a similar fate in 2018. 

So, what’s up with torching cars on New Year’s Eve? It happens in the poorer suburbs of France every year. At least it has since the 1980s when the “tradition” got started in Strasbourg, a border town next to Germany. But in 1997 it all changed.

Rival gangs started torching cars to steal media attention

Toulouse, FRANCE: Two youths on a bicycle pass a blazing car in a Toulouse suburb | Getty

That’s when the French national media began covering the fires. Rival gangs started torching cars to steal media attention from other areas. The police were mostly preoccupied with other duties so they were unable to devote as much attention to the escalating fires. “While annual figures may fluctuate, they’ve generally swelled since the late 1970s, when French suburban youths first started burning cars as a way to get the attention of society, the media, and politicians,” reported Time magazine.

When the riots of 2005 saw over 8,000 cars destroyed it gave somewhat of an explanation to what the fires represented. Back then, the three-week riots were sparked by the death of two students in Clichy-sous-Bois suburbs. The French government finally had to declare a state of emergency. 

As large groups of police show up they are ambushed and attacked

Hundreds of torched cars in storage | Getty

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Now the torchings happen mainly in Strasbourg, Lille, Toulouse, and Nantes-all poor areas. It now represents defiance by poor French youth. They are a way to confront the police. As large groups of police show up they are ambushed and attacked. It’s also a means to make a few dollars through insurance. 

The government finally started cracking down last year. It imposed an 8 PM curfew in 2020. The activities during a curfew increased the fines if one got caught to $166. Also, gas stations are mandated to close on December 31. And law enforcement no longer publishes arson breakdowns by city, decreasing the interest in city gangs trying to outdo neighboring gangs. 

The government feels torching cars will be an ongoing problem because of insurance

A fireman tries to extinguish a car set ablaze earlier by youth in Venissieux Southeast France| Getty

Unfortunately, the government feels that this will be an ongoing problem because of the insurance angle. Insurance investigators are less likely to dig into case-by-case causes when arson occurs on New Year’s Eve. So waiting until New Years’ to collect on insurance looks to be the motive of choice for dishonest or otherwise desperate car owners. 

It’s also a convenient way for car thieves to discard unwanted stolen cars. If obviously stolen and stripped it still makes it tougher for investigators and is more likely to keep burning when there are hundreds of other car fires that night. That obviously helps to destroy any evidence left behind.