/ Health, Motoring

Breathe deeply – drivers in France to carry own breathalysers!

They’ve added yet another ‘essential’ gadget to the long list of items you must carry if you’re travelling by car in France. From 1 July, motorists driving anything more powerful than a moped must carry a breathalyser.

The French have a very particular reason for asking for this extra requirement. It seems, contrary to the popular British attitude that we’re ‘the only Europeans with a drink problem’, France has a very high drink driving fatality rate.

In fact, about 30% of all road deaths in France are alcohol-related. And since 2007, alcohol has been the leading cause of road fatalities in France, ahead of all other factors, including speeding.

So perhaps they have good reason for the rule, and maybe it will be enough of a deterrent to reduce drink driving deaths? This looks like a legitimate means of stopping drink driving, rather than stopping drinking – and I’m all in favour of that, for sure.

But whether or not the plan works, I can see several other possible outcomes.

The problems of personal breathalysers

Firstly, it will surely result in a massive expansion in the market for these devices. This begs the question – have the people manufacturing or marketing breathalysers had a say in getting this requirement brought into law?

Secondly, I foresee a potential problem when there’s a dispute over the accuracy of one of these devices. I’ve never been breathalysed for real (the closest I’ve come was to have blown into one at a police breathalysers demonstration), but presumably we can have confidence that the expensive and regularly calibrated ones police use are accurate and can be relied upon.

But what happens when someone who has taken a reading from their own ‘domestic’ breathalyser, later finds themselves on a charge because it was inaccurate? A driver might be up in front of the French equivalent of the magistrate’s court initially, but they could then take a claim against the authorities or breathalyser company through the European courts.

Obviously, the French seem to have a fairly serious drink-drive problem, and on the face of it, I reckon this looks like one means of making the population (literally) self-regulate. If it were to work, it would surely bring positive change. But could it end in a litigation nightmare?

Should drivers have to carry their own breathalysers?

No (66%, 251 Votes)

Yes (26%, 98 Votes)

Don't know (8%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 382

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I expect there will be a lot of opportunities for lawyers in France.


This is the most ridiculous law the French have come up with yet. What about people who don’t drink or whose religion forbids it anyway? Why should they be forced to carry a breathalyser? I should add that I drink every day and my religion does not forbid it.

Nevertheless, I shall buy some of these breathalysers cheaply in France for use in the UK, assuming they can handle the UK’s higher blood alcohol limit of 0.08% compared to the French limit of 0.05%. The voluntary use of these devices should be encouraged, and that’s why I’ll use one in the UK.

Em says:
8 March 2012

>>> This is the most ridiculous law the French have come up with yet. <<<

But that's only to be expected – a government keeping its legislation in line with the increasing stupidity of its drivers. How about the Euro 1500 fine for "watching a film whilst driving" – who needs a law to tell them this is not a good idea?

Sophie Gilbert says:
8 March 2012

France is a secular country. Anyone’s religion is irrelevant.


Sadly in the UK 1000s of motorists watch sat navs – text on and talk to mobile phones – drink – and other equally as dangerous activities.


Sat navs can be a considerable aid to safety, as some have pointed out on another Conversation. You might as well say that watching the speedometer is a dangerous activity. At least sat navs speak their instructions and give advance information, which helps you plan ahead and get in the appropriate lane, for example.

Harry says:
17 March 2012

You don’t need to “watch” a sat nav in the same way you would watch a film.

A quick glance is enough, and that quick glance is much much quicker than reading a traffic sign, which has to tell you about all the likely destinations, rather than the *single* destination which the satnav already knows about.


I agree that differences in the results will lead to problems – but I doubt if it would lead to a ban in their use. There used to be one here that you could buy years ago – but as I don’t drink and drive – I never pursued it. Anything to reduce deaths on the roads is to be encouraged. It would be nice to have one attached to the car so it won’t run unless the driver is under the limit.(yes I know that it could be fooled)

Em says:
7 March 2012

Somewhat bizarre – in that the décret simply requires the driver to be in possession of an unused breathalyser at all times. So there would seem to be strong counterincentives to actually using it;

a) there is no requirement to carry out a test – so who will waste 2 Euros every time they decide to drink and drive, and

b) if you are down to your last one and you check to see if you are over the limit, you would actually be breaking the law, regardless of the outcome.

Please note I do not condone driving with any amount of alcohol (or other substance) in the bloodstream – I’m simply commenting on the absurdity of the legislation as drafted.