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France says 'oui' to mandatory Breathalyzers in cars

A woman uses a breath-analysis machine.

LAURA LEYSHON/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

A nation of wine drinkers has been ordered to take a deep breath.

France has decreed that all motorists must carry Breathalyzers in their cars as of July 1, 2012, Macleans reports.

Drivers have until November to stock up on the devices before authorities impose a fine of 11 euros (about $15) on anyone caught without a certified breath-analysis machine.

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France is the first country in the world to impose the drastic measure. It's part of President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategy to reduce the country's deplorable drunk-driving record, Macleans notes. The annual road fatality rate is 4,000, of which one third are alcohol related, according to the government's Sécurité Routière department.

France has already reduced the legal blood-alcohol content limit to 0.05 – the same as that of British Columbia and Ontario. But the legal limit remains high compared with other European countries, such as Sweden and Norway, where the limit is 0.02.

The rationale behind the Breathalyzer law is probably to educate French drivers on just how little booze it takes to pass the legal limit, MotorAuthority.com suggests. (It's not just a matter of calculating the number of drinks consumed, according to Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, since factors such weight, body fat, recent food intake and an individual's ability to digest alcohol play a role.)

But critics point out that nothing in the French law requires drivers to actually use the machines. And there's nothing to stop a sober friend from breathing into the device on the tipsy driver's behalf, just as convicted drunk drivers can exploit the loophole presented by government-mandated ignition-locking devices (a.k.a. "alcolocks").

What's more, moped riders are exempt from France's new Breathalyzer rules – which could mean an uptick in jaunty two-wheeled transportation for drivers fond of grenache and pinot.

Will France's new law do any good? Can you see yourself keeping a Breathalyzer in the car – and using it?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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