/ 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.

>>> 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)

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.

The decree says you must have TWO breathanalyzers so as to have one spare when you have used one. Some other facts not reported. First, although the decree comes into force on 1 July, there will be no fines until November. Second, it seems that one of the legislators championing this measure has connections with the manufacturers: http://www.connexionfrance.com/breath-test-breathalyser-Contralco-Orgeval-13885-view-article.html

Sophie Gilbert says:
8 March 2012

I don’t see in what way being made to carry breathalysers in their cars is going to change the attitude of the French towards drinking and driving. Meanwhile the rest of us have to pay for their stupidity when we visit. I just hope that the price will remain that of a breathalyser, not life or limb.

The French may have come up with a rather eccentric motoring law and have a very high drink driving fatality rate, but it is not fair or politically correct to brand them all as stupid. Stay away until from France until your name has been forgotten. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 March 2012


I hope Sophie was referring to the ‘stupidity’ of French policy makers who implemented this law (which is your opinion), and not French people in general. If it was the latter I’d have to put in a warning – that could be seen as offensive Sophie and would be against our commenting guidelines. Thanks. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 March 2012

Sorry about the ambiguity! No nation is better or worse than any other…

Surely most who drink and drive are so drunk they are unable to exercise reason and question their drunkenness? I’d therefore question whether these people would therefore think to use a breathalyser after they’d had a few?

David says:
9 March 2012

Exactly, and even if they do take the personal test and find it positive what is stopping them from driving home drunk anyway? Dopey law!

I don’t know – There used to be breathalysers in some pubs in the UK some years ago – Some used it as a fun thing – some used it to indicate if they were just over the limit and liable to be arrested.and didn’t drive.

A great many people drive when just over the limit as they don’t think they are drunk – not when they are drunk and incapable. I do not condone any drink and driving at all – But many (most?) convicted D & D drivers are just over the limit. Like 40 instead of 35 – they are not 120 instead of 35. Their punishment normally reflects that degree of overindulgence..

Rather like speeding at 52 is still speeding in a 50 limit and dealt accordingly – but different from the punishment for doing 100 in the same limit.

I think the difference would be in France that to drive KNOWING you’ve failed the breathalyser would be a far more serious offence than drinking too much but think you are sober and then drive. Many criminal offences are treated in the same way with regard to “intent” rather like manslaughter and murder.

Ian Hazell says:
12 March 2012

What a superb piece of legislation. It really makes sense. I have had a personal breathalyser for years to check I am ok the morning after and I think everyone should have one. Ideally they should be built into the cars ECU preventing starting if the driver is over the limit.

Paul says:
12 March 2012

If they were serious about this they would insist that new cars sold in France should be fitted with the device fitted to many coaches in the uk; you cannot start the engine until you pass the built in breathalyzer test. Simp-pulls! I have to say this is a good idea, but the French law is a typical political fudge which will achieve very little, unless that is you are a manufacturer of disposable breathalyzers. Caa-ching!

cyrilla says:
14 March 2012

as far as I know, you are asked to have a breathalyzer in the car you are driving. Should you be stopped by the police, you will be required to show it, not necessarily use it. if you do not have it, you will get fined. (same goes for spare light bulbs, triangle, reflecting jacket). the majority of French people reckons that it is a money exercise, nothing else!

Does anyone know if these breathalysers HAVE to be disposable? Is it worth investing in a re-usable one such as Alcosense? Or would that not be legal in the eyes of the French police?

They can be disposable or re-usable; the only stipulation is that they have to conform to the French standard (which is marked on the packaging/product itself)

“..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%.”

Conversely, and further to the above comment made by a previous contributor, can we have some clarification here: I buy a breathalyser in England with a 0.08% limit and have to use it in France. It records that I fall within the legal limit (ie: under 0.08%). However, I have had half/one pint of alcohol such that I actually have 0.06% alcohol in my blood. Am I legal (according to the 0.08% limit of my breathalyser) or not (according to the French limit of 0.05%)?

If you have, say, 0.07% alcohol in your blood, you will be OK if driving in the UK but you will be prosecuted in France (the device only tells you what the level is (i.e. a fact – always assuming that it’s accurate)); it does not determine whether or not you are within the limit – which varies from country to country.

chris says:
28 June 2012

if someone is irresponsible enough to drive after driking then why would they worry about blowing in a breathalyser? do you really think that they are going to say ‘oh dear i am over the limit so i better not drive’? i doubt it.

Hector says:
20 December 2014

I do. When I get back from a dinner in London and find my breathalyser has me over the limit then I wait in the station car park, or go off to a cafe, until it reads that I am under the limit. It was on the occasion that it took until 3 am to be under the limit that I first began to suspect the accuracy of the device! I now have four, and they do not all give the same readings. It would be nice to have a proper Which? report done to find out which make is the most reliable.

I expect the police will have an accurate one. 🙂

Ken Summers says:
29 June 2012

Will breathalysers be issued automatically by car hire companies in France or do I have to buy one before travelling or whilst there? When are they expected to be used?

Marty says:
29 June 2012

So if I am driving in France this month, is it worth buying breathalysers, since the fines do not come into effect until November?

Probably not, but the police will caution you. They will then make rigorous checks on headlight deflectors, GB sticker, warning triangle and – what one hapless English driver was recently fined a staggering 90 euros for – not having your orange luminous safety vest to hand (ie: right next to you in the car, NOT in the boot of the car!). Be prepared – the hunting season for UK drivers in France has begun!

No point but you could always refrain from drinking and driving to be certain that you are safe

David Bates says:
30 June 2012

So where do we get a breathalyser?

It would be a good idea for Which? to advise where these breathalysers can be purchased, and even better – test them so we can see which, if any, to buy!

Dickie says:
11 December 2012

I have been researching availability and quality of breathalysers for personal use in UK. I was very surprised to find that Which have not carried out any tests.There are lots of cheapo twenty-five-poundery ones which have so many failings as to be useless. Unlike the French with their compulsory and cumbersome blow-up bag and the Americans with D.O.T certificated devices, conscientious Brits have no set standards for personal Breathalysers. According to WHAT car magazine the Alcodigital model Alcohawk Pro Breathalyser at £125.00 .I am going to give it a shot to assess myself on ‘mornings after’!

A danger with a personal breathalyser is that it may encourage you to drive with alcohol in your system just below the legal limit – when your ability is impaired. Much better surely to play safe and not to drink at all if you are going to drive.

Some developments on this. The French Interior Ministry has now said that is indefinitely suspending the fines for not carrying a breathalyser. So although the law requiring drivers to have one is in place, you will not be fined if you don’t have one.

ROBIN says:
9 March 2013

it seems wholly appropriate for WHICH to give us guidance and test results for breathalysers. Like most other commentators I would not get in my car after any sort of alchoholic drink, but having paid out for a taxi the night before I would like to know I am safe to drive the next day.If we knew we could obtain something reasonably accurate for here, France or anywhere that would be a tremendous help. Please which give us a test!

With the new lower blood alcohol limit now in force in Scotland I’d love to know of any newly reviewed breathalysers by Which. To be clear, I’m not considering drinking and driving but would like very much to be sure I’m safe the morning after. The reviews online by others are contradictory to say the least.