New breathalyzer law affects drivers in France

by Robert Szostek
U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Drivers who enter France — whether visiting, on business or just passing through — will be required to carry a breathalyzer unit in their vehicles, beginning July 1.

The new law recently announced by the French government is in response to a high volume of traffic incidents involving alcohol. Nearly 30 percent of all fatal traffic accidents in France are due to alcohol consumption, according to a release by the German Automobile Club, ADAC.

“The tests will allow people to test themselves and others if they suspect they are over the (blood alcohol content) limit,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Stuhn, chief of law enforcement at the U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal. The legal limit in France is 0.5 grams per liter.

Single-use breathalyzer tests are available in supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations across France and cost about 50 euro cents to €1.50, OPM officials said. Outside France, they are available only at some pharmacies or online. Disposable or electronic breath testing equipment may be used, ADAC reported. The disposable variety consists of a tube and a plastic bag to blow into, and use of a color reaction to indicate whether a driver is over the legal BAC limit. Test kits carrying an “NF” consumer protection label are recommended in France.
Before Nov. 1, drivers found without the test kit in their vehicles will be given a warning; after that date they will be fined €11 on the spot.

“I recommend motorists have at least two breathalyzers in their vehicle at all times,” Stuhn said, “so that one can be used if necessary while the other is there to show to police.” Driving under the influence of alcohol in France is punishable with a fine of €90 to €750 when BAC is between 0.5 and 0.8. With a BAC over 0.8, drivers can be punished with a fine of up to €4,500 and up to two years’ imprisonment, even without displaying any signs of drunkenness.

BAC limits in Europe ranges from 0.2 to 0.9. The most common limit in Europe is 0.5, and applies where most U.S. forces are stationed in Europe — Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Germany has a 0.3 limit if you’re in an accident, said U.S. Army Europe Office of the Provost Marshal officials. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have zero tolerance.