Ask the experts
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Whether you’re planning your move to France, or are already living there, our panel of professionals aims to keep you fully informed with the best advice for every eventuality
Q. I’ve read a lot about the law in France that requires drivers to carry breathalysers in their car at all times. However, I’m confused as some sources seem to state this as fact, while others have reported that it’s no longer necessary. Can you please clarify what the situation was, and what it is now?
A. The law on this has changed a couple of times in recent years so it can sometimes be confusing to know what you are legally required to carry in your vehicle. On 1 March 2012, French law made it mandatory for all vehicles driven in France to carry a breathalyser, known in French as an ‘alcootest’, at all times. Drivers who failed to comply with the law risked having to pay an on-the-spot fine of €11 (£9).
However, just a year later the law changed. Since March 2013, drivers are still obliged to carry a breathalyser in their vehicle, but will not receive a fine if they are stopped and do not have one. Rather than the test being seen as more red tape to follow, and one that simply incurs a small fine if you don’t stick to the rules, French authorities want to encourage all drivers to test themselves prior to taking to the road.
According to the latest French road safety statistics, one in three road deaths in France involves a driver over the alcohol limit, so self-testing plays a large part in trying to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused on French roads. It is worth noting that the level of alcohol in your system continues to rise for 30 minutes after your last alcoholic drink on an empty stomach, or for an hour if drinking with a meal.
It is important to research the type of breathalyser you need before purchasing. The test must carry an ‘NF’ (Norme Française) mark on it, showing that it has been approved for use, and there are two types available: a cheaper one-use breathalyser (it is recommended you carry two, one to self-test before setting off and another for use on the road if necessary) or an electronic test that is more expensive. Consider the type of journey you are taking to help decide which to go for as it may be worth buying a reusable electronic test if you regularly drive in France.
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Don’t forget that there are several compulsory items that all drivers in France are obliged to carry, as well as a breathalyser: make sure you have a warning triangle and a high visibility safety vest with you and if you are driving a right-hand drive car, adjust the headlamps to avoid blinding other drivers.
David is technical director for the RAC, publishers of the Driving Abroad report for Europe and France.