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France's Breathalyzer Law Aims to Reduce Drunk Driving

Do You Need to Carry a Breathalyzer in France?


What Does the French Breathalyzer Law Require?

Effective July 1, 2012, every vehicle in France, with the exception of two- and three-wheeled vehicles with engines smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, must carry an unused chemical breath test in addition to previously-required safety equipment. The fine for failure to comply with this law is 11 Euros; police will check for the breathalyzers beginning in July but will not fine violators until November 2012. This new law was passed on February 28, 2012.

Drivers of passenger vehicles do not have to invest in expensive electronic breathalyzers. Simple, disposable chemical breath tests are available from pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations and car dealerships. These one-use chemical breath tests are inexpensive; prices range from under one Euro to just a few Euros each.

Who Must Comply With the French Breathalyzer Law?

Anyone driving in France, unless they are driving a motorcycle or three-wheeled cycle, as described above, must comply with the breathalyzer law, regardless of nationality. Visitors to France who rent cars, vans or trucks must carry an unused chemical breath test in their rental vehicle.

Which Breathalyzers Are Approved for Use?

The government of France has published a list of approved chemical and electronic breath tests. All the approved chemical breath tests bear the letters "NF" or are in packages that they are government-approved. If you are traveling to France and plan to drive while there, print a copy of the list and bring it with you in case you need to buy a breathalyzer when you arrive. Typically, chemical breath tests have a shelf life of about two years, provided they are not stored in extremely cold or hot places.

What Is the Purpose of the French Breathalyzer Law?

Drunk driving kills nearly four thousand people per year in France. 31 percent of fatal accidents in France are alcohol related. In 2007, the French government launched a multi-year campaign to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths; speed cameras and breathalyzers are just two aspects of this campaign.

Drivers who drink are strongly encouraged to self-test one hour after drinking. Many bars and restaurants in France now provide breathalyzers for their patrons to use, but drivers can now check their own blood alcohol levels in their cars, before they begin to drive.

What Is the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in France?

The legal blood alcohol limit in France is 0.5 grams per liter of blood, or .25 milligrams per liter of exhaled air, according to Sécurité Routière, France's road safety agency. Note that blood alcohol limits defined differently in Europe; in the United States, blood alcohol concentration shows how many milligrams of alcohol are in 100 milliliters of blood.

What if I Don't Drink Alcohol?

Even if you never drink alcohol, you must still comply with the breathalyzer law.

How Do I Use the Breathalyzer?

Ideally, according to Sécurité Routière, you should test your blood alcohol level one hour after your last drink (one-half hour if you have not had anything to eat). To use an electronic breathalyzer, you simply blow into the tube; the device will indicate whether your blood alcohol level is within the legal limit. To use a disposable chemical breath test, you open the package, take out the test tube and blow into the proper end. The chemical crystals inside the tube will change color depending on how much alcohol is in your expelled breath. The chemical breath test kit includes a chart to help you understand the results of the test and determine whether or not you should drive.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Vehicles registered outside France must still carry an unused breathalyzer. Carrying at least two breathalyzers is strongly recommended, because once you use one, you are still required to carry an unused chemical breath test or electronic breathalyzer.

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