French New Year’s tradition of burning cars continues, but is stifled by COVID restrictions

Hundreds of empty, parked cars go up in flames in France every New Year’s Eve, set on fire by young partygoers, a much-regretted tradition that showed up in decline this year, with only 874 vehicles burning.

The number of cars that burned overnight has dropped compared to New Year’s Eve 2019, when 1,316 vehicles went up in flames, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter on Saturday.

Fewer arson attacks took place due to massive police presence on city streets this New Year’s Eve, law and order enforcement and restrictions on public assemblies and wearing face masks as infections driven by the rapidly spreading omicron variant rise, he said.

There is no information on burned cars last year due to a nationwide shutdown in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

An auto wrecker removes burnt out cars after New Year's Eve.
This year, 874 vehicles were burned in the streets across France.(AFP: Frederick Florin)

Like many countries, France sees cars set on fire during the year for many reasons, including gangs hiding traces of their crimes and people making false insurance claims.

But car burning took a new step in France as it became a way to mark the arrival of the new year.

The practice reportedly began in earnest among young people – often in poor neighborhoods – in the 1990s in the region around Strasbourg in eastern France.

It also became a voice for protest during the burning unrest of desperate young people from housing projects that swept across France in the autumn of 2005.

At the time, police counted 8,810 vehicles burned in less than three weeks.




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