Next time you're thinking of renting a car to explore the French countryside, you'll have a new item to add your budget. A new law requires all drivers -- even tourists -- to purchase and carry a breathalyzer kit. This first-of-its-kind law comes in response to France's high number of drunk driving deaths, which outnumber speeding fatalities. Thirty-one percent of road deaths in France are attributable to alcohol, reports the Toronto Star
The law will go into full effect Nov. 1, with fines starting at $14 and maxing out -- for those caught with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.05 -- at $5,600, plus forfeiture of the offender's driver's license. Even teetotalers must carry the device or face a penalty.
Along with the breathalyzers, which cost $1 for a single-use kit and about $200 for a multiple-use one, the law requires drivers to have a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, spare light bulbs, a safety triangle and a fluorescent vest on hand at all times while operating a motor vehicle.
The law comes at a time when the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, is considering a new continent-wide road safety measure that would require all cars to be fitted with e-call technology by 2015. In the event of an automobile crash, the e-call device would alert emergency-services vehicles to the location of the accident. The European Parliament says such a law would save 2,500 lives a year.
Could similar safety measures come to American roads any time soon? We've written about dashboard blood-alcohol sensors
that would prevent a drunken person from starting a vehicle. Experts have conjectured that Americans might balk at this technology, the way they did at forced seatbelt use in the 1970s. It follows that a hand-held-breathalyzer
mandate could meet resistance. Though if it saves lives, how persuasive could the arguments against it really be?
It's harder to imagine drivers objecting to an e-call law, the entire point of which is to deploy medical assistance to crash sites as quickly as possible. It can therefore be argued that it's less about legislating good behavior than adding a safety net should disaster occur. One potential hurdle will likely be privacy concerns. The European Parliament stressed that the system wasn't to be used to monitor drivers' movements, and would be deployed only in the event of a car accident. But, let's face it, skeptical Americans might not go for that; a vocal group already has forced onboard concierge service OnStar to drop a plan to use driver location and vehicle operation habits for anything other than emergency response services.