Want to Avoid Speeding Fines in France? Blame Your Dog

You may have read elsewhere here about the relationship we developed a few years ago with the Gendarmes in France.

It can be an expensive relationship, with little reward on your part if you’re caught speeding in France.

Each summer, the Peage becomes a hunting ground with tourists trapped like fish in a barrel. You could, of course, simply be good and cruise more slowly. Or you could try and find ways of avoiding the speed cameras. Here’s a guest post by Neil Reeve, who can be found Tweeting here.

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Jean Ragnotti was a fast French rally driver long before Sebastein Loeb was a young lad. Jean’s success in the Renault 5 Maxi Turbo the things of legend.

But his daily driver was a battered Renault 5 and his local Police force didn’t always appreciate his pace. Read Neil’s story…

OK, so, here’s the story that my former colleague told me about Ragnotti…

Ragnotti was living in a small village in rural France and would motor around in an old Renault 5 at speed reminiscent of his racing exploits.

He was well known in the village and the Chief of Police of the district mentioned to him that he should beware, because in the coming weeks a new-fangled front-facing speed camera was going to be installed just outside his village to deter people from speeding through the narrow streets as the village is located on a lightly trafficked country road.

Ragnotti dismissed speed cameras as ‘just for tourists’ and drove as you’d expect.

Soon after its installation, the Chief of Police went to see Ragnotti and told him that he had received the first film from the speed camera and his flying Cinq featured quite prominently.

He told him that he would be able to lose this film with Ragnotti’s car in it, but soon the regional Police would be taking an interest and overseeing the administration of the fines and prosecutions from the new speed camera and so he wouldn’t be able to help him any more…

Ragnotti said he would no longer be caught on the camera and assured him it would be the last time they Chief of Police would see his face in a photo from that speed camera.

Some weeks later the Chief of Police appeared at Ragnotti’s door again, quite agitated…

He had an envelope and inside were a series of photos clearly showing Ragnotti’s Cinq, registering distinctly illegal speeds as it passed the speed camera. Ragnotti descends into howls of laughter when presented with the photos:

“What’s the big problem? I told you that you wouldn’t see my face again on the photos from your speed camera”.

The Chief was ranting and raving how this was serious and that his colleagues from regional HQ were due to come to their town in the coming days to discuss the success of their road safety initiative and to review the new speed-camera and to see if the locals had been deterred from their high-speed driving ways and hopefully, the majority of offenders were now drivers from outside the immediate area. And as the regional head of road safety was coming, there was no hope to “lose” the offending photos from now on…

The reason for the Chief of Police’s anxiety was because Jean had indeed kept his promise.

The problem was that the photos clearly showed Ragnotti’s Renault 5, but either there appeared to be nobody driving it, or there was the clear sight of a large dog, an Irish Wolfhound, sitting in the driver’s seat as the car flew past the camera.

Determined to wind up his friend the Chief of Police, Ragnotti had driven his car out to the location close to the speed camera and got the car up to sufficient speed to trigger the device and as he passed it ducked down, lying across the passenger seat at the key moment, before sitting up and resuming driving.

Then he loaded his large, hairy Wolfhound onboard and drove him to the point in the road a couple of hundred metres short of the speed camera.

He sat himself in the passenger seat, with his big mutt obediently installed on the driver’s seat, then stretching his legs across the narrow space to the pedals and steering with his right hand, accelerated hard and at the key moment, again ducked down, maintaining the steering with one hand for a few seconds, before resuming the position and bringing the car safely to a halt…

And sure, enough within weeks, his friend was back at his door with self portraits of the Wolfhound. The tale goes that after a few more weeks, the camera was mysteriously removed and nothing more was said.

As I mentioned, it was recounted to me by a former colleague of mine many years ago who worked at Renault in their motorsport and PR departments, so I’m pretty sure it’s legit – I do remember my colleague virtually weeping with laughter as he told it (albeit in French!)

And if you’re still wondering what Ragnotti looked like behind the wheel, here’s a video of him in a SS1600 Clio. We think he must have easily been in his sixties when this was shot. You can’t keep a good dog down…

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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