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The simple answer is yes you do need a breathalyser in your car from 1st July 2012 (Ganz einfach geantwortet: Ja, sie brauchen einem Alkoholtester im Auto ab 1. Juli 2012)!
The French government has introduced a mandatory requirement that all motorized vehicles (except mopeds) must carry a breathalyser. The reason for this law is to address the large number of alcohol related road deaths on French roads. One in three road deaths in France have been related to drink driving. In neighbouring Germany, the level is approximately one in ten.
From November 1st 2012 if you are caught without a breathalyser on the French roads you will be fined 11 euros. The level of the fine will increase for repeat offenders.
This is not a new idea in France; since January 2010 all new coaches have had to be equipped with breath testers which prevent the start-up (ignition) of the vehicle until the test has been taken. This system must be applied to all coaches (new ones and those already in use) from the start of the 2015 school year.
To comply with the law the breathalysers must be approved under the French ‘norm’ system and must bear the letters NF to confirm this. Without this formal NF certification the breath testing equipment will not be accepted by the French police.
Breathalysers can be single use devices which can be obtained from supermarkets, drug stores and petrol stations for about 2 euros each. Alternatively it is possible to acquire a hand help multi-use electronic (digital) breathalyser device for around 100 euros. These must also be NF certified and are considered by some to be more reliable from an accuracy standpoint.
These regulations will apply to all drivers in France, not just the local population. To avoid the fines the breathalyser must be unused when checked by the police and should be available in the car at all times (you can’t use the ‘sorry I left it in the flat’ argument). The testing devices must also be within their ‘use before’ date. This is important to check if you only visit France occasionally. Even if you are T-total you still must be in possession of the alcohol testing equipment.
The actually possession of the breathalyser in the vehicle does not mean that the driver will not be breathalysed or blood tested for alcohol by the police.
For those travelling from the UK it is worth remembering that the French limit for driving with alcohol in the blood is lower than that in the UK (in France the limit is 0.05 Blood Alcohol Content compared with the UK’s 0.08).
If you do travel through France from the UK why don’t you continue a little further and visit the Bavarian/Austrian Alps. If you would like to see a sample of what you can visit there are many photos on this site taken of the Voralpenland. Please use the links here and here.