United Kingdom: France finally scraps law forcing drivers to keep breathalyser kits in cars (excerpt)
January 8, 2020
A confusing law that has forced (at least officially) drivers in France to keep at least one disposable breathaylser kit in their car at all times has finally been officially binned by the French government.
The law, which has always been surrounded by confusion and controversy, was first introduced back in March 2013.
Drivers were told they would need to keep at least one usable disposable breathalyser kit in their car and if they were stopped by police and found not to have one, they would be subject to an €11 fine.
But then the government of former President François Hollande decided to scrap the fines but still keep the actual law in place.
That meant drivers in France would not be punished when stopped by police but simply be “reminded of the law”.
But the confusion around the law should now be over after the French government’s bill covering transport and mobility (Le projet de loi d’orientation des mobilités) was definitively adopted into law just before Christmas when it was published in the Journal Officiel.
The government justified the move by saying it had not proven to be effective at cutting drink-driving, which is still one of the biggest causes of fatalities on French roads.
“The feasibility and effectiveness of this obligation have not been proven,” the government said when the move was first announced.
The Ministry of Interior told The Local that a decree will be published in the coming weeks from when the new rule will officially be applicable.
While the law was long forgotten about by most French drivers, motorists coming from Britain were still reminded of the “legal requirement” to buy the breathalyser kits when they cross the Channel.
Cross-Channel ferry company P&O have made announcements to alert passengers to the need to carry the kits in France and to let them know the approved breathalysers are available in the onboard shop for £5.99.
The breathalysers themselves state on the box that “from 1st March 2013 all vehicles travelling in France MUST, by law, be carrying NF approved breathalysers”, without mentioning that drivers would not be fined.
They also reminded drivers the kits go out of date so they need to be replaced.
There was much controversy when the law was first brought out in France when it emerged the head of the lobby group demanding the government introduce the requirement was an executive at one of the companies licensed to make the breathalysers.
French governments over the years have been under pressure to cut the number of deaths on the roads linked to alcohol.
In 2018, 3,259 people died on French roads, although that number is set to rise in 2019. Alcohol is believed to be responsible for around one third of road deaths in France.
Eradicating a culture of drinking alcohol before driving has proved difficult in France. In a 2016 survey a quarter of drivers admitted drinking before getting behind the wheel.
French driver’s still think only a little alcohol then only a little danger’, the head of the company behind the survey told The Local at the time.
The head of France’s leading motorists group says France has failed to make the same progress as the UK.
“In contrast to the UK, drink-driving is not yet socially unacceptable in France,” Pierre Chasseray, the head of driver’s group “40 million d’automobilistes” told The Local previously.
“In the UK it’s become shameful to drink and drive but in France it is still accepted.
Even though the obligation to keep breathalysers in the glove compartment will soon disappear, that’s not to say drivers shouldn’t think about keeping one or two at hand.
Indeed the new law forces shops that sell alcohol at night to make sell the disposable breathalyser kits.
Chasseray, from 40 Millions d’automobilistes told The Local that he would advise British drivers to keep them in their cars so they can use them to know if they are over the limit or not.
Not least because the drink drive limit is lower in France than in the UK.
France has very strict drink driving laws . You are allowed a maximum of 0.5mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood, compared to 0.8mg/ml in the UK. Although for young drivers in France the limit is even lower – 0.2 mg/ml.
A statement from the RAC motorist organisation in the UK said: “The best advice is to never drink and drive, whether driving in France or elsewhere. For any driver that still chooses to, it still makes a lot of sense to carry a portable breathalyser to check they are well below the relevant legal limit.”
Anyone using a breathalyser kit should do so one hour after their last drink because the level of alcohol in the blood stream continues to rise. They should also know that it can take up to 14 hours after the last drink for the body to be clear of any traces of alcohol.
If you have between 0.5 and 0.8mg of alcohol in your blood you could be fined between €135 to €750 and lose 6 points off your licence.
Since 2018 motorists convicted of drink-driving in France have the option of installing a permanent breathalyser in their cars known as “ignition interlock device” or éthylotest anti-demarrage or face losing their driving licence.
Some 1,500 have been fitted in cars in France.