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Why is drink-driving still 'acceptable' in France?

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Why is drink-driving still 'acceptable' in France?
Drink driving in France causes 58 percent of road deaths at weekends. Why can't France solve the problem? Photo: AFP
12:23 CET+01:00
With nearly one in three French people owning up to getting behind the wheel despite knowing they had drunk more than the legal limit, The Local looks at why France is still struggling to deal with the problem of drink-driving, that kills hundreds on the roads each year.

New figures released on Friday showed France is no nearer to reducing the levels of drink-driving, which is said to be behind 58 percent of all road deaths at weekends and ten percent of the total 3,300 annual fatalities on France's roads. 

Twenty-nine percent of the people surveyed by France’s Prévention Routière et Assureurs Prévention admitted they had driven with more than the legal 0.5 grams/ litre of alcohol in their blood stream.

According to the study titled “Going out, drinking alcohol and driving: the French take too many risks”, 27 percent also claimed they had gotten in a vehicle even though they thought the driver was over the limit.

Seven in ten people in France go out at least once a month, the vast majority (83 percent) of whom drink alcohol when they do go out socially.

Perhaps most alarming is that 78 percent of people who do head out to party do so by car and 49 percent go home by the same means (29 percent of passengers too).

The head of France's leading motorists group says France has failed to make the same progress as the UK.

"In contrast to the UK drink-driving is not yet socially unacceptable in France," Pierre Chasseray, the head of driver's group "40 million d'automobilistes" told The Local.

"In the UK it's become shameful to drink and drive but in France it is still accepted. For the last 40 years the government has done nothing to tackle this problem even though it is the main cause of deaths of France's roads.

"The government needs to put in place a policy to prioritize reducing the levels of drink driving. In France up to now the authorities have been obsessed by cracking down on speeding, because it brings in money through speeding tickets.

"Clamping down on drink driving is not so profitable, which is why nothing has been done".

Perhaps what makes these figures stand out is the fact that one in two French people don’t know what the legal alcohol limit is for driving and authorities have reason for concern.

Christophe Ramond from the road safety group Prevention Routiere told The Local that cultural differences between the north and south of Europe play a part in France's poor record.

"In northern countries there is a culture of drinking a lot more. In fact people get too drunk to drive so they know they can't get in the car. In southern European countries like France and Spain people drink in moderation and so are not put off driving," Ramond said.

Ramond disagrees with Chasseray saying in France it has indeed become shameful to drink a lot and drive, but the difference is those drinking in moderation, who may be just slightly over the limit, still do not see it as a problem.

"It becomes a habit for them and they continue to do it until it ends in tragedy or they are stopped by the police and they lose their licence," he said.

He points out that every country has its problem with drink-driving but at least in France the figures for the number of deaths are accurate.

The new study also revealed 41 percent of those surveyed still choose the “wrong solutions”, such as drinking water or coffee before driving, choosing a quiet route or driving slowly.

A total of 6,774 people aged 18 to 64 were interviewed for the study, the majority of whom think they’re most likely to be involved in an accident with a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve and when nightclubs close their doors. 

Another problem France faces, according to Ramond is that outside Paris, most people are forced to rely on their cars as a means of transport when they hit the town.

"Eight out of ten people rely on their car to go out for an evening and of course they come back in their cars," he said.

A recent report by France’s Interior Ministry recommended slashing the legal blood-alcohol limit for new drivers from 0.5g/L (grams per litre) to 0.2g/L as a way of reducing road deaths among young people.

“In 2013, drivers aged 18 to 24 who had consumed alcohol were involved in every second accident between midnight and 6am on Saturdays and Sundays.” France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in that year. 

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