/ 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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Hector says:
20 December 2014

The French Breathalysers required by law are those that can only be used once – and I thought the idea of having two was that when stopped by the police you had to blow in both in turn and that the police kept one and you kept the other.

I have four reusable breathalysers (same make and specification) and they can give four different readings! For instance at 0815 this morning the four readings were 15, 10, LOW and 39. From experience I know that the first one gives the most-likely-to-be-accurate reading. The latter two widely different readings are from two new devices acquired during the last few weeks. (These breathalysers come with the endorsement of a well-known racing driver.)

So, it would be helpful if Which? could do thorough testing of all breathalysers available, particularly the reusable ones, and to test several examples of the same model against each other, and against other makes and the police versions.

Also, it would seem advisable for anyone not to rely on just one breathalyser. I had two – one for the car and one for the kitchen – but they gave different readings, so I bought a third to find out which of the first two was the accurate one. Instead I now had, on occasions, three different readings. One of them I recently returned for servicing but it was replaced with a new one which is giving suspiciously low readings. The vendors asked for all three back to test, which is why I bought the fourth, which I soon discovered gives suspiciously high readings. So, it is the two new ones which will be going back first. It would be so nice to have three of them all giving the same, hopefully accurate, readings.