French motorists driven to the limit

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The Independent Online


At any French roadside cafe you will see lorry drivers and a good number of car drivers with a bottle of wine, or two - and they are not there for decoration. In an attempt at least to moderate this habit and the high accident figures which are believed to be a consequence, the government yesterday announced stricter drink-driving regulations, to come into force on 15 September.

Accompanied by advertisements and a slogan, "Apres deux verres ... tout s'accelere" (More than two glasses and everything goes faster), the new provision reduces the maximum permitted blood-alcohol level from 70mg/ml to 50mg/ml, an amount that the government has decided, for simplicity's sake, equals two (small) glasses of wine.

The rationale is that alcohol has been found to be one, if not the main, component in 40 per cent of fatal accidents in France. Last year 8,500 people died on French roads, more than twice as many as in Britain.

The latest reduction is the second recently: the blood-alcohol level was reduced to 70mg/ml from 80mg/ml last year, a measure that the Transport Minister, Bernard Pons, said yesterday had made a difference, but not enough. In particular, it had been difficult for drivers to understand how much was too much, because 0.70g was not equivalent to any familiar measure. The permitted level in Britain remains at 80mg/ml.

Mr Pons said most people found over the limit were occasional drinkers returning from a family gathering or a night out. The government would encourage marketing of self-tests, in supermarkets, garages and cafes.

But if alcohol has been found to be a cause in 40 per cent of fatal accidents, speed has been blamed in 50 per cent, yet a measure reducing the maximum speed proposed by the government of Edouard Balladur in autumn was abandoned as too politically sensitive before the presidential election.