Controversy hits France's crackdown on drink driving

A new French law that came into force on Sunday July 1 demands all motorists in France, including tourists, to carry a breathalyser kit in their vehicle. Opponents of the ruling say it is more about lining pockets than saving lives.


A new French law came into force Sunday forcing drivers to carry a breathalyser kit in the car at all times.

But just days before the new ruling became active, a road safety group was accused of trying to profit from the law.

It has emerged that the chief of the road safety group that persuaded Nicolas Sarkozy’s government to adopt the ruling is also a senior executive with the leading manufacturer of the blow-in-the-bag test kits.

French daily Sud Ouest revealed on Wednesday that Daniel Orgeval, the president of the anti-drink driving lobby group I-Test, also works for Contralco, the leading manufacturer of the equipment.

I-Test was formed just eight months before Sarkozy’s government adopted the new law in March last year.

Contralco, one of only two companies who produce a test-kit of the required standard, was reportedly in financial difficulties until the law was approved. But since then it has taken on over 100 staff, thanks in no small part to a demand for five million test kits a month.

Sud Ouest’s exposure of Orgeval’s double role has led to an angry response from other motorist groups.

“Everyone is a winner except the road user,” said Chantal Perrichon of the French League against Road Violence.

Perrichon told Europe 1 radio station the breathalyser only serves to “make the manufacturers rich”.

“They used their address book and they achieved their goal and you can only congratulate them,” Perrichon said sarcastically. “But the 37 million drivers who are forced to buy the chemical breath tests can only lament the government’s inability to make the right choice.”

€11 fine

Former President Sarkozy had vowed to cut the number of deaths on France’s roads, nearly a third of which are due to drink-driving, according to France’s road safety authority. In the UK the number stands at 17 percent and in Germany at 12 percent.

Orgeval hit back at his critics on Wednesday, claiming he had acted completely within the law.

“We play a proactive role,” Orgeval told Europe 1. “If this is lobbying then I say yes, because we lobbied for road safety and for road users. And if it helps create jobs for a French company then so much the better.”

The law is aimed at encouraging drivers to test themselves before driving. The drink-driving limit in France is set at 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, which is lower than the legal limit in Britain (80mg/100ml).

Critics of the scheme say the test kits do not give accurate readings and are worthless because most drivers who pose a risk will know they are over the limit without blowing into a bag.

Anyone caught without a breathalyser kit in their car will be liable for an €11 on-the-spot fine, although a period of grace means those motorists who flout the law will not be forced to pay the penalty until November.

Tourists visiting France from Britain have been warned to purchase the kits before they arrive in France as police have threatened to crack down on the major routes leading to and from France’s ports.

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