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1st July 2012 - motorists must carry breathalyzer kit in France

A new law came into force in France today, requiring motorists to carry a breathalyzer, so they can self-test for drink driving. It joins other obligatory items for France, including the warning triangle, and the high visibility jacket. 

Fines from 1st November 2012

Although the law applies from 1st July, the police will not enforce it until 1st November 2012. From that date, anyone driving a motor vehicle in France (except a scooter with a 50cc engine or smaller), can be fined if they do not have a breathalyzer (éthylotest, in French). The fine will be €11.

Types of breathalyzer

There are two main types of breathalyzer - reusable, electronic devices, costing around €100, and disposable, chemical testers, which should be €1 to €1.50, according to Sécurité Routiere, the French government agency responsible for road safety. The cheaper variety have a use-by date, and last 2 years. To comply with French law, you need an 'NF-approved' breathalyzer (NF standing for Normes Francaises, meaning French standards, like a kite mark). The recommendation is to buy two kits, so that if you use one, you still have a usable one left in case you're stopped. 

A two-pack of NF-approved disposable breathalyzers costs £5.99 at Halfords. The same brand on the AA website is £7.99. Both look overpriced.

When using a breathalyzer, bear in mind that your blood alcohol level can rise after your last drink - for 15-30 minutes, on an empty stomach, or for 30-60 minutes if you were drinking with food.

Alcohol limits

The legal blood alcohol limit in France is 50mg per 100ml. Contrary to what one might expect, this is lower than in the UK, which has a limit of 80mg. The maximum penalty for 50-80mg is a €135 fine and 6 points from your licence. Beyond 80mg, the penalty can be up to a €4500 fine, loss of your licence, and 2 years in prison.

Controversy in France

It is hoped the new measure will continue the progress France has made in reducing the number of fatalities on its roads. 3970 people were killed in 2011, down from about 10,000 ten years ago, but Sécurité Routiere is seeking further improvements. Drink driving has been the number one cause of fatal road accidents in France since 2006, accounting for 1150 cases in 2011, almost 30% of the total. This compares with a figure of 17% in the UK, and just 10% in Germany.

However, the change has been controversial. It is argued that people intent on drinking and driving will not test themselves, and everyone else is put to needless expense. The biggest beneficiaries are the two main manufacturers of the kits in France, and one of them was heavily involved in lobbying the previous President, Sarkozy, to pass the law making them obligatory.

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