By Alisdair Suttie 22 February 2012
Wednesday 22 February 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
Whatever our differences with our Gallic cousins in these turbulent financial times, we still love to hop over La Manche for a holiday. France is the UK’s favourite getaway destination and many of us take advantage of the ferries and chunnel to get over there toute suite.
Once there, we’re more than happy to slip into that holiday idle of French life, sampling the grub and partaking of the local tipples, of which there are many.
France’s relaxed attitude to alcohol, however, extends only as far as the dinner table. For decades, the French and most of Europe has enforced stricter drink-driving limits than in the UK.
Now, the French are going one stage further in their campaign against drink-driving, which is unfortunately still a problem rife across the country.
From 1 July this year, French law will require all drivers inside its borders to carry a breathalyser kit.
There’s a small period of grace before fines are introduced, but by November of this year if you are stopped by the gendarmes and don’t have a breathalyser in the car that can be used to test your alcohol levels, you face an €11 fine.
Doesn’t sound like much, but the fine is only the fiscal part of the consequences. No testing kit means the French police are at liberté to breath test the driver, which some French experts predict will turn up a far greater number of drivers still under the influence from the night before.
These same experts also believe anyone who indulges in a couple of glasses of vino at lunchtime will also be much more likely to be caught and prosecuted.
This is all for the good, especially when France has had one of the worse records for drink-driving in recent years. La Republique has also had a much higher death toll on its roads compared to the UK, even though there are fewer cars and drivers on French roads than here in Blighty.
Some French pundits will point out there are great numbers of foreign drivers who pass through France but are not registered there. This is true and there is a sizeable minority of such drivers and vehicles that are not fit to be on the roads.
However, the same problems exist for most European countries and they have been tackled more effectively. The UK, for instance, has been very active in dealing with the problem of foreign-registered trucks emerging from its ports with drivers barely able to control their vehicle.
Tough approaches to such dangerous drivers are only right, but the flip side is we British drivers must also acquiesce to the rules and regulations of those countries we choose to visit.
The old sense of being abroad means the law doesn’t really apply is long gone in the world of motoring. It’s very easy for police in one country to share information with those in another nation, and this info share is getting wider and quicker all of the time.
Better still, the Institute of Advanced Motorists recommends we carry two such kits, which cost anything from just £1. That way, there’s always a spare kit to show to the police that is ready for use, even if you’ve made use of the other before setting safe in the knowledge you are below the legal limit for France.
The drink-drive limit in France, by the way, is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This equates to one average pint of beer or glass of wine, whereas in the UK the limit is set at 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which is closer to two pints or a couple of glasses of plonk.
Leaving aside the arguments for lowering the UK’s drink-drive limit to bring it into line with the rest of Europe, which is a very sound idea, there is one other concern with the new French law.
This problem lies with the alcohol breath testing kits themselves. These kits will be on sale at ferry and channel tunnel terminals, which means you would assume they will be of a certain standard and accuracy.
However, there has been no mention so far of a French state-approved kit being issued and instead it’s being left up to the existing alco-test kit suppliers to provide drivers with this legal requirement.
That in itself is not a problem, but previous comparison tests of such kits has shown up considerable variations in the accuracy of some breathalysers. This is the real worry as a kit bought from a shop or service station may cover you for the legal element of carrying the kit, it may not give a sufficiently accurate reading to let you know if you are safe to drive or not.
This then opens up a whole debate about liability should a driver use such a kit, gain a negative result that says he or she is safe to drive and then be stopped by the police. If the French police then carry out a further breathalyser test and find you to be over the legal drink-drive limit, who is at fault?
In the immediate term, you are. As the driver of the vehicle, it’s incumbent upon you to be sure you are fit and able to drive the car safely. Yet, if you’ve taken the precaution of using a breath test kit and it shows a safe result, doesn’t that prove you are a conscientious driver?
This part of the new French system will need to be clarified before this regulation comes into force in July.
Let’s be clear, the best policy is not to drink at all if you are going to be driving any time soon after. Or, if it’s the night before, drink in moderation and leave a large time gap between the last gulp and first twist of the ignition key. Common sense plays a significant role here, even if you are in the holiday mood.
When it comes down to it, the only thing keeping you on the road are your car’s tyres. They are such a vital component, yet research shows that two-thirds of drivers don’t even know the minimum legal tread depth permitted.…
Citroen has just marked the 45th anniversary of its quirky Mehari fun car with a bespoke display at its chic design centre in the middle of Paris. While the Mehari may be more beach dunes than Champs-Elysées, it points up…
If you ever need an example of how far the car and automotive technology has come in a single generation, just reach for the gear lever in your car. A mere 25 years ago, you would most likely have the choice of five gears…
There are a great many considerations to take into account when looking at your next company car. Some are purely financial and others will be environmental, either because of monetary reasons or because of your conscience.…
Hot hatches have been through a few ups and downs in the time the class has properly existed. From must-have 1980s accessory to untouchable, uninsurable liability in the early 1990s, the sector has been on the rise again…