Where did so many of us hear that because the French are exposed to drinking wine at an early age they learn to drink more responsibly than we Canadians and Americans.? Apparently, our information source was imbibing in their red wine because as I read one of Stephen Clarke’s books Talk To The Snail, ” I learned that “according to the French Medical Institute Inserm, there are over twenty thousand alcohol related deaths per year in France.. . .For a similar population, the UK records only around six thousand.” Sadly, the French haven’t heard the saying, “Drinking and driving: there are stupider things, but it’s a very short list.
As a tourist, this statistic is rather alarming especially since as Stephen Clarke comments, this statistic could be lowered if only they developed a practice of having a designated driver who is a teetotaller just for the night! In the meantime, they often crash into the plane trees along the provincial roads. In 2006, Clarke was only aware of one tactic how the French address this problem: ” With typical French logic, some regions are trying to tackle this drink-driving problem by (you guessed it) chopping down the plane trees.”
Around the time that Stephen Clarke wrote his book, Herve Chabalier, a leading french journalist and former alcoholic, wrote a challenging report to the French Health Minister. Like Clark, Chebalier believes that France has always “culturally just seen the good side and never faced the fact that alcohol is the third greatest cause of avoidable deaths in France.” In his report, he claimed that a “third of all custodial sentences in France, half of all domestic violence, and a third of all handicaps are due to alcohol”. Not only is alcohol responsible for 23,00 deaths a year in France but he added, it is indirectly responsible for a further 22,000. http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/11/28/14713.aspx
Fortunately, for the French and for tourists, the government is presently taking this problem seriously and as of July 1, 2012, it will be mandatory to have a breathalyser test in the car. If a driver is caught without the test in his car, he will face a fine of 11 euros from November 1st. Since this bill has been passed, disposable brethalysers are now available in French bars and nightclubs. Since January 2010, new vehicles have been equipped with breathalyser tests which even prevent drivers starting the ignition until the test is taken. Thankfully, this device needs to be installed in all vehicles by the start of September 2015. http://www.english.rfi.fr/visiting-france/20120302-new-french-law-makes-alcohol-tests-mandatory-every-car
As a tourist driving throughout France in September and October, I am encouraged by these actions so that the French roads are becoming just a little bit safer! In the meantime, I will relax in the assumption that the drunken drivers are driving late at night when I am sleeping snug as a bug in my French hotel bed after a full day of sightseeing.