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feb 29

France to Require Breathalyzers in All Cars, Including Rentals

A driver takes the test (Courtesy Breathalyze)

The French are cracking down on drunk driving in a way that may surprise American visitors.

Starting in July, all motorists—including those in rental cars—will be required to have a breath alcohol testing instrument on hand. If a driver is pulled over by police for some reason and is found not to have the kit in their car, the fine will be €17 (or about $23).

Breathalyzers ("drunk-o-meters") are designed so that drivers can test themselves to check they are under the legal limit for alcohol intoxication.

Hertz rental cars will provide the breathalyzers for free, a spokesperson said by e-mail. Avis and Budget responded to my request on this topic by saying: "We’re looking at it, but have no comment at this time."

The companies have a while to decide: Enforcement of the law begins November 1.

An interesting question is how they devices will be explained to customers. Companies may need to explain the devices to American drivers in advance, given that most French cops will be unlikely or unwilling to speak English.

Otherwise, there may be a lot of confusion as an officer asks a driver to find and use the breathalyzer-type device—and the American driver doesn't know there is one in his or her auto's glove compartment.

American visitors to France may be surprised to learn that alcohol limits are tougher there than in the US, despite the country's foreign reputation for a relaxed attitude toward wine. The French limit is 50mg in 100ml of blood.

That's much stricter limit than in our country, which has limits of 80mg in 17 states and 100mg in 33 states, says a US government survey.

In France, motorists found over the limit 50mg face fines starting at €135 (about $180), a fine that's tougher than in much of the US.

France has been on an aggressive program to reduce fatalities from drunk driving. A decade ago, it had one of the world's highest fatality rates. It now has one of the lowest.

In France, single-use Breathalyzer-type kits cost about 1 or 2 euros, or for less than $2.50 generally. If you drink alcohol, you can use the kit to make sure you're within legal limits before driving. For more info on testing, see alcoholtest.org.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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