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France Forces Drivers to Carry Breathalyzers

Will a radical new law lower the country's drunk driving rate?

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Photo via Is self-testing realistic?

By Gabrielle Wuhl

07/02/12

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France has recently been developing some alarming drunk driving rates to add to its reputation for fine food and, ahem, wines. Now, in an attempt to protect both drunk and innocent drivers, the country is requiring all drivers to carry two breathalyzer kits in their vehicle. The law—which came into effect Sunday, but will allow people a four-month grace period to purchase the kits—aims to get drivers to check their own alcohol levels before they start their engines. France suffered about 4,000 road deaths in 2011—around 30% of which were alcohol-related. The law allows for a fine of €11 (about $14) for those who don't comply—and surveys find that most drivers have yet to do so. The new rule is inevitably causing controversy. Critics say that it's nothing but a way for breathalyzer manufacturers to make a quick buck—and that there's already a breathalyzer kit shortage in the country. Others argue that breathalyzers are no guarantee that an inebriated driver will act responsibly. "The whole idea of self-testing sounds like nonsense," scoffs Keith Peat of the Association of British Drivers. But safety advocates in the US would happily back a similar law here. "If they were mandatory in every vehicle," says Capt. Ted Richardson of the Laurens County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina, "the roads would be safer. There's no doubt about that." 

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