DRIVERS face renewed checks over the festive season as police and gendarmes step up their action against drink-driving after a rise in the number of fatal accidents where alcohol was a factor.
All drivers involved in an accident are now automatically breathalysed or have blood samples taken against a background where 4,273 people were killed in 72,315 accidents in 2009, with 30 per cent of the fatal accidents involving alcohol.
The Sécurité Routière department says that 1,200 lives could have been saved if drivers had avoided driving after drinking.
Worryingly, in nearly 90 per cent of fatal accidents involving drink-driver, his – and more than 90 per cent of fatal drink-driving accidents involve a male driver – alcohol level was over 0.8g per litre of blood (the limit is 0.5g) and in one case in two it was more than 1.5g per litre.
France has a stiffer drink-drive limit than the UK, although it is in line with many other EU countries, but there have been calls to cut the UK limit from the present 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg (0.8g per litre to 0.5g/l) as it would save hundreds of lives.
Foreign drivers in France will get no leeway for being foreign and will be obliged to apply for a French driving licence so that points can be taken away, depending on the severity of the offence (in France, points are deducted from the initial 12 points on the licence).
Now the Sécurité Routière is starting a publicity drive to halt the continuing toll, where 29.6 per cent of fatal accidents involve a driver over the legal alcohol limit; a proportion that is three times higher than the total for all accidents.
The figures vary across the country, with Haute-Savoie seeing 41.7 per cent of fatal accidents involving drink-drivers against just 8.7 per cent in Seine-Saint-Denis. The worst areas in general terms for drink-driving are the west and the north.
While the accident statistics are frightening in themselves, they do not seem to have deterred hard-core drink-drivers and the number of deaths in accidents where drink was a factor rose last year for the first time since 2005, with 1,018 killed. Police and gendarmes do not need to wait for a driver to make a mistake to do an alcohol test, but any on-the-spot test must be done on the highway or in an area open to public circulation.
The penalties for drink-driving seem moderate: an alcohol level of above 0.5g/litre of blood is counted as a contravention and will cost you six points off your licence – and you will obliged to take out a French licence – and a fixed fine of €135.
Depending on the circumstances, the procureur may take the case to court, where you also face a ban of up to three years.
However, hitting or exceeding 0.8g/l and the offence becomes a delit and the penalties stiffen: you lose six points, face a fine of €4,500, a three-year ban and up to two years’ prison. You will also have to resit the test.
Injuring someone in an accident can mean a €75,000 fine, five years’ jail, a 10-year ban plus, resitting the test and the loss of your vehicle. A fatal accident leads to a e100,000 fine and up to seven years’ prison.