French drink-drivers could avoid losing their licences by installing a €1,300 breathalyser

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By Michael-Ross Fiorentino  with AFP
Glasses and bottles of Chateau Belcier red wine in Saint Emilion
Glasses and bottles of Chateau Belcier red wine in Saint Emilion   -   Copyright  REUTERS / Regis Duvignau

Drink-drivers in France will be able to avoid losing their licence... by installing a device that immobilises their vehicle if it detects alcohol above the legal limit.

The scheme has been tested over the last year in various French regions but is being now rolled out nationwide.

The breathalyser connects to the vehicle's power supply and the driver must blow into it to start the engine.

Installation of the device, which costs €1,300 or €100 per month to rent, will come out of the pocket of the drink-driver.

The idea is to allow those convicted of low-level offences to keep their jobs — if they require a vehicle — while still being held accountable.

Which drink-drivers are eligible?

Eligible drivers for the breathalyser are ones intercepted with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.8 grams per litre of blood and who are not in a state of "alcoholic relapse". It is unclear whether there is a max blood alcohol level to make an offender ineligible for the programme.

The device will initially be installed in the vehicle of an offender for six months, but the order may be extended by a court for up to five years in certain circumstances. Second offenders will not be eligible to avoid a license suspension.

French road safety

After a steady decline in French road deaths since 1970, figures have been on the rise again, by 3.4% in 2014, 2.2% in 2015 and 0.5% in 2016.

Roads are still the leading cause of violent death in France, according to the Road Safety Committee (CISR) with nine fatalities and 65 serious casualties every day in 2016.

In 2017, 1,035 people lost their lives in a car crash involving a drink-driver, while alcohol abuse accounted for 20.8% of all traffic offences.

France is not only tackling the issue of road safety among drink drivers.

The government has controversially lowered the maximum speed limit from 90 km/h to 80 km/h (50mph) on some non-motorway roads.