Breathalyzer ignition interlockEnlarge Photo
It's hard to believe that a nation of amateur oenologists would take such a drastic measure, but France has instituted a new rule requiring breathalyzers in all motor vehicles (except mopeds) as of July 1, 2012.
The reason for the rule (which can be found, in French, at the Legifrance database) is simple: France has a very high drunk driving fatality rate; about 30 percent of all road fatalities are alcohol-related. In fact, alcohol has been the leading cause of road deaths in France, ahead of speeding or other factors, since at least 2007.
France has already taken large strides in reducing its road fatalities over the past decade, cutting its numbers by more than 40 percent since 2001. The country also has a very low blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit; just 0.05, compared to the U.S. limit of 0.08--though much of Europe has similar, or even stricter, limits than France. Sweden and Norway, for example, limit BAC to just 0.02.
Nonetheless, France's decision to require breathalyzers in every car by July 1, with fines imposed on non-compliant drivers starting November 1, seems drastic. In its goal to reach a maximum of 3,000 road deaths per year--a reduction of another 30 percent or so--it may seem reasonable. But for drivers having to shoulder the expense of a certified unit, it may seem less so, even if they're relatively inexpensive compared to professional breathalyzers. Disposable single-use devices may cut up-front costs, but over time, are likely to be just as expensive.
It's also important to note that while immobilizers tied into the breathalyzer system (often called alcolocks in Europe) are compliant with the law, they're not required. A driver in compliance with the law could have a breathalyzer, use it, and still drive away drunk if they choose to. And of course, the classic alcolock loophole of having another, sober person blow into the unit still exists.
It's possible that France is aiming for better education and awareness of just how little alcohol it takes to reach a BAC of 0.05. For the average person, it might take as little as three standard drinks (i.e., 12 ounce beers) over the course of three hours to reach the 0.05 limit.
Unfortunately, the law doesn't appear to require drivers to ever actually use the breathalyzers that must be in their cars.
Whether the law will ultimately prove effective or not, however, it may be more important as a potential indicator of the future of road safety and drunk driving legislation not just in France, but elsewhere in Europe, and even here in the U.S.
While not from France, the video below does demonstrate the effectiveness of a breathalyzer on its own, without the presence of authorities or an ignition interlock.