French law on breath test kits to affect Irish tourists


THOUSANDS OF Irish tourists who will take their car with them to France this summer will face fines unless they are carrying a breathalyser with them in their vehicle.

A new law is coming into operation before the start of the summer which will make it obligatory for all drivers in France to have an alcohol breathalyser with them at all times.

It is the latest part of a clampdown on road deaths and accidents by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week announced the latest in a series of hard-hitting road safety measures.

In recent years legislation has been introduced forcing drivers to have a hi-visibility jacket within reach, along with an accident warning triangle.

From the end of spring, all drivers in France will also now be required to carry the personal alcohol testers in their vehicles.

The breathalysers will become available at reasonable prices throughout France – some for as little as €2 – but Irish motorists could have to fork out as much as €50 if they buy them here before departing for France.

However, an award-winning road safety officer has said that while the new French law has some merit, he did not see a need for it here.

Noel Gibbons, road safety officer with Mayo County Council, said the French were trying to promote a message of zero alcohol for drivers.

“The French plan is a good one ideally, but there is no requirement for it here at all.”

“We already are preaching the message that there is no safe limit to drive with drink in your system, so what use would carrying a breathalyser do?” he asked.

“We don’t want people to be taking a chance if they are close to the legal limit, putting people’s lives at risk.”

France is the world’s largest tourist market – 78.95 million tourists visited there in 2010 – and visitors will need to take care when bringing their own cars to the country.

An estimated 765,000 Irish people travel to France from Ireland each year. Anyone bringing their own transport and found in breach of the new French law faces a €17 fine.

The operator of one of Ireland’s biggest specialists in French camping holidays, Pearse Keller of Keller Travel in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, says holidaymakers will have to be fully aware of the implications.

“I suppose it will be up to us as travel agents to make sure our customers are made aware of the new rules of the road in France.

“Just like drivers have to carry a high-visibility vest and an accident triangle, they will now have to carry the breathalyser,” Mr Keller said.

“While it appears it will not be an expensive item, it is one more thing that holidaymakers have to be aware of before leaving,” he pointed out.

“But in fairness to the French administrators, they have made a concerted effort to reduce their accidents on the road.

“Going back 10 or 12 years they had huge numbers of road deaths, but the hard work in that department should be applauded. Anything that makes it safer for our holidaymakers is a positive thing,” he continued.

President Sarkozy’s latest manoeuvres come on the back of his 2007 pledge to cut road deaths in the country to 3,000 in 2012. Last year the death toll on French roads dipped below 4,000 for the first time, but is still a long way off target.