Tech and Society: French say ‘oui’ to breathalyzers

One breathalyzer to go, please

Michael Fitzgerald By Michael Fitzgerald

The “alcootest” may become a part of your French vacation — and vocabulary. The French government plans to begin making drivers carry a breathalyzer in their cars starting July 1.

Contralco makes one of the two approved single-use breath tests (inflated for use).

The move was announced last year by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to see fewer alcohol-related deaths on French roads.

France may push to have similar rules enacted across Europe, according to the Poitou-Charentes Journal. Deaths related to driving while under the influence are a major cause of traffic deaths around the world.

Papers in Britain are already warning British tourists, many of whom take their cars to France, of the coming law.

An official at Britain’s Automobile Association told the London  Daily Telegraph that he thought breathalyzers might not work.

They are not a good idea, because a driver’s metabolism means that the alcohol level doesn’t peak until 45 minutes after drinking. You could pass a test in the car park after an agreeable lunch and then fail when stopped by the police three-quarters of an hour later. The only sensible advice remains if you drink don’t drive and if you drive, don’t drink.

In the U.S., most states can require drivers who are busted for driving drunk to install ‘interlock’ devices, which force a driver to pass a breathalyzer test before their car will start.  But none of them have gone as far as France.

The French have approved two simple portable breathalyzers, that cost about $3, for use – one made by Contralco, a French company, the other by a South African firm, Red Line.

No word on whether the Breathalyzer Watch will pass muster. This iPhone DrinkTracker app probably won’t.  LG Electronics offered a Breathalyzer phone a few years ago, but that seems to no longer be for sale.

Drivers without breathalyzers won’t face fines this summer, but starting in November people caught without a breathalyzer in their car will face $14 fines. France could move towards requiring interlock devices, suggests the Poitou-Charentes Journal.

Breathalyzers may seem inconvenient, but at least it isn’t the LAVIA system. That system, still under development in France, will use GPS to control driver’s speeds, making sure that they don’t go faster than the posted speed limit. C’est la vie…

  • Hilda

    Wow – a lot has changed since our years in France. Drinking is such a part of the culture of France – you can buy wine at the local McDonald’s (at least in the late 90′s when we lived there), during lunch at the work place. I had wondered at that time of alcoholism and drunk driving. By the governments actions – it appears that it is a major problem.