Are you thinking of driving abroad this year? If so, make sure you are up to date with the new laws for driving in France.
British holidaymakers will have to carry breathalyser kits in their vehicles when they visit France from next weekend.
It is the latest headache for drivers in the country who are already penalised for not having a luminous safety vest or a warning triangle in the car.
And road safety campaigners in the UK have warned that the French government-approved breathalysers – which cost from £3 – are actually of little use in gauging whether a driver is over the drink-drive limit.
This is much lower than the 80mg limit in the UK.
Drivers who are caught without a breathalyser kit face a fine of £9 but there will be a period of grace until November. The breathalyser requirement brings the total cost of the mandatory kit required in France to £40.
The French government has approved two breathalyser kits – a cheap blow-in-the-bag tester that costs £3 and digital versions that cost more than £100.
DO THE £3 BAGS REALLY WORK?
The£3 blow-in-the-bag breathalyser approved by the French authorities was tested by The Mail on Sunday in an unscientific experiment. Our reporter drank a half litre of Stella Artois beer, the amount expected to take you to the French drink-drive limit. He then waited 20 minutes for the alcohol to reach his bloodstream.
Following the instructions, he blew up the plastic bag and inserted the tube containing yellow crystals. He then squeezed the bag, forcing the air up the glass vessel.
The alcohol in his breath was supposed to react with the crystals, turning them green, and if the drink-drive limit had been reached, enough would change colour to cross a red line drawn around the vessel. But there was no change.
After another 500ml Stella, a third of the crystals turned light green but the red line was not breached. But he had now drunk double the limit.
After a third beer most of the crystals turned a dark green and crossed the red line, indicating he was over the approved amount. When he checked the result with an £800 police kit it read 53mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood – just over the French limit, suggesting the bag is accurate.
With the cheap version, users force the air into a tube containing yellow crystals. These crystals turn different shades of green depending on the degree of alcohol detected.
But Chris Deith of AlcoDigital, one of just two UK distributors of the French government-approved breathalysers, said that the technology was outdated.
‘Blow-in-the-bag breathalysers were first approved in the UK for police use in 1969 and they are not sufficiently accurate to determine whether you are under or over the limit on the night you do the drinking,’ he said.
‘The only thing they are useful for is determining whether you have alcohol in your system at all. It takes considerable experience to be able to tell the subtle colour difference in the powder before a passed or failed test. The more accurate digital versions cost hundreds of pounds, which tourists are not willing to pay.’
The AA’s head of road safety, Andrew Howard, also raised concerns about the delay between alcohol being consumed and it registering in breathalyser tests.
‘We have always criticised post-drinking self-tests,’ he said. ‘After you have had your last swig of alcohol, your reading will continue to rise for 40 minutes. You can pass the test in the pub and fail it at the road block shortly after.’
Motorists found with 50mg to 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood in France face a £108 fine and could gain six penalty points on their licence. If a driver registers above 80mg, they could be fined £3,626, lose their licence and be sent to prison for up to two years. Police will use their own breathalysers to perform a roadside test.
Motorists also face £108 on- the-spot fines for not carrying a luminous safety vest, a warning triangle, headlamp converters for driving on the right and a GB sticker or number plate with EU logo.
And since January, satnavs capable of detecting speed cameras were also banned in France. Those caught can be fined £1,208, even if the device is not in use.