Breathalyzer kits will be compulsory for all French drivers from July 1, but some remain unconvinced that the measure will reduce the death toll on the roads.
From Sunday, vehicle owners must have at least one single-test breathalyzer kit, costing from 1 to 3 euros ($1.20–$3.70), in their cars, or a permanent electronic kit, priced upwards of 100 euros ($125).
“The law says that you must have a functioning breathalyzer kit, but our recommendation is that you should always have at least two single-use kits,” says Frédéric Péchenard, the French minister for road safety.
As of November 1 this year, the police will issue a fine of 11 euros ($13.70) to drivers who do not have a kit when stopped. Péchenard admits it is “hardly a deterrent but we didn’t want to penalize people too heavily.”
Péchenard’s predecessor, Jean Luc Névache, hoped that the measure would save 500 of the 4,000 lives lost on French roads each year. Since 2006, alcohol has been the main cause of traffic accidents, responsible for nearly one-third of all deaths on the roads. This figure is much higher than in England (17 percent) and Germany (10 percent).
Road users’ associations are skeptical about the new regulations, but Péchenard defends their implementation: “Some people will realize they have drunk too much and will say ‘I’m not going to drive.’ Sometimes [this is] under pressure from their passengers, but seeing the results of a breathalyzer test puts it beyond doubt that they should not drive having had a drink.”
However, during the election campaign earlier this year the French president, François Hollande, admitted that compulsory breathalyzer kits would have limitations, because “the overwhelming majority of [drink-driving] accidents are caused by drivers that know that they are over the limit.”
Hollande’s statement is supported by the president of the Association Against Road Violence, Chantal Perrichon. “Eighty percent of accidents linked to alcohol are caused by people that have more than 1.2 grams of alcohol in their blood, which means they clearly know that they are drunk,” she said.
Perrichon condemns the breathalyzer kits for dealing with the symptoms and not the cause of the drink-driving problem in France. In addition, she believes that the single-use breathalyzer kits cannot withstand high or low temperatures – a technical issue highlighted by Vincent Julé-Parade of the Road Victims’ Association. “If you leave the breathalyzer kits in your glove box in summer, the tests will be useless,” he said.
However, the laboratory responsible for checking that the tests meet quality standards dismissed these claims as “false.” “We have simulated extreme temperatures in the laboratory,” said a representative, adding that its tests were rigorous.
But critics continue to speak out, including the French Federation of Angry Bikers, which scoffs at what it calls the “new gadget for road safety.” While this latest attempt to solve drunk-driving is “praiseworthy,” the federation insists that it has no chance of solving the problem.