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France Requires Breathalyzer Tests in Cars

New law may signal changing times for road safety in Europe.

By Claire_Martin Jul 5, 2012 12:09PM
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.

3Comments
Jul 6, 2012 2:24AM
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Who would've guessed a country known for wine production would have a DUI problem?
Jul 8, 2012 4:38AM
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The only effective method would be a device fitted to a vehicle that immobilised the car for a period of time when a positive breath test is given. Any device which has to be purchased by the driver is just never going to effective, can understand a warning triangle and high vis vest but would debate the point of carrying a fire extinguisher, just incourages people to have a go when they havent been trained. In the event of being pulled over by the police and they suspect you to be over the limit they would not use your device as its not calibrated and could not be used in court...waste of the drivers money and another reason just not to visit the god awful country :-)
Jul 6, 2012 6:23AM
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" Who would've guessed a country known for wine production would have a DUI problem?"

Chauvinism at its finest: subtle, perfid. You get a cookie.

United States of America is one of major wine producers, and we have many DUI related deaths per year, especially since alcohol is not allowed to be consumed before one is 21, so teenagers go on drinking sprees, because alcohol is forbidden. Very smart measure by puritans / conservatives. Works great too, that is why we have so many teenagers dead, not to mention adults. But hey, as long as you imply France has a high number of DUI deaths because they are a major wine producer, and we overlook that we have the same problem as they do, that makes it alright. USA is just so perfect that we do not need to revise anything and it is perfectly OK to slam others for the same problems we have not successfully solved ourselves.
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