France finally scraps law forcing drivers to keep breathalyser kits in cars

A confusing law that has forced (at least officially) drivers in France to keep at least one disposable breathaylser kit in their car at all times has finally been officially binned by the French government.

France finally scraps law forcing drivers to keep breathalyser kits in cars

The law, which has always been surrounded by confusion and controversy, was first introduced back in March 2013.

Drivers were told they would need to keep at least one usable disposable breathalyser kit in their car and if they were stopped by police and found not to have one, they would be subject to an €11 fine.

But then the government of former President François Hollande decided to scrap the fines but still keep the actual law in place.

That meant drivers in France would not be punished when stopped by police but simply be “reminded of the law”.

But the confusion around the law should now be over after the French government's bill covering transport and mobility (Le projet de loi d'orientation des mobilités) was definitively adopted into law just before Christmas when it was published in the Journal Officiel.

The bill included an article saying the law obliging drivers to carry breathalysers has now been scrapped.

The government justified the move by saying it had not proven to be effective at cutting drink-driving, which is still one of the biggest causes of fatalities on French roads.

“The feasibility and effectiveness of this obligation have not been proven,” the government said when the move was first announced.

The Ministry of Interior told The Local that a decree will be published in the coming weeks from when the new rule will officially be applicable.

While the law was long forgotten about by most French drivers, motorists coming from Britain were still reminded of the “legal requirement” to buy the breathalyser kits when they cross the Channel.

Cross-Channel ferry company P&O have made announcements to alert passengers to the need to carry the kits in France and to let them know the approved breathalysers are available in the onboard shop for £5.99.

READ ALSO: Fake laws – The real rules for driving in France you need to know

Breathalyser kits still flying off the shelves in the shops of P&O ferries. The Local

The breathalysers themselves state on the box that “from 1st March 2013 all vehicles travelling in France MUST, by law, be carrying NF approved breathalysers”, without mentioning that drivers would not be fined.

The Local

They also reminded drivers the kits go out of date so they need to be replaced.


There was much controversy when the law was first brought out in France when it emerged the head of the lobby group demanding the government introduce the requirement was an executive at one of the companies licensed to make the breathalysers.

French governments over the years have been under pressure to cut the number of deaths on the roads linked to alcohol.

In 2018, 3,259 people died on French roads, although that number is set to rise in 2019. Alcohol is believed to be responsible for around one third of road deaths in France.

Eradicating a culture of drinking alcohol before driving has proved difficult in France. In a 2016 survey a quarter of drivers admitted drinking before getting behind the wheel.

French driver's still think only a little alcohol then only a little danger', the head of the company behind the survey told The Local at the time.

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 previously.

“In the UK it's become shameful to drink and drive but in France it is still accepted.

READ ALSO: Why is drink-driving still acceptable in France?

Even though the obligation to keep breathalysers in the glove compartment will soon disappear, that's not to say drivers shouldn't think about keeping one or two at hand.

Indeed the new law forces shops that sell alcohol at night to make sell the disposable breathalyser kits.

Chasseray, from 40 Millions d'automobilistes told The Local that he would advise British drivers to keep them in their cars so they can use them to know if they are over the limit or not.

Not least because the drink drive limit is lower in France than in the UK.

France has very strict drink driving laws . You are allowed a maximum of 0.5mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood, compared to 0.8mg/ml in the UK. Although for young drivers in France the limit is even lower – 0.2 mg/ml.

A statement from the RAC motorist organisation in the UK said: “The best advice is to never drink and drive, whether driving in France or elsewhere. For any driver that still chooses to, it still makes a lot of sense to carry a portable breathalyser to check they are well below the relevant legal limit.”

Anyone using a breathalyser kit should do so one hour after their last drink because the level of alcohol in the blood stream continues to rise. They should also know that it can take up to 14 hours after the last drink for the body to be clear of any traces of alcohol.

If you have between 0.5 and 0.8mg of alcohol in your blood you could be fined between €135 to €750 and lose 6 points off your licence. 

Since 2018 motorists convicted of drink-driving in France have the option of installing a permanent breathalyser in their cars known as “ignition interlock device” or éthylotest anti-demarrage or face losing their driving licence.

Some 1,500 have been fitted in cars in France.


Ethylotest – breathaylser kit

un rappel à la loi – reminder of the law

une amende – a fine

un côntrole – a police stop




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Reader question: Can I buy or sell a car in France if I have a foreign driving licence?

You can drive in France for a certain amount of time with some foreign driving licences. But can you buy or sell a car with one and what other documents do you need?

Reader question: Can I buy or sell a car in France if I have a foreign driving licence?

Let’s start with the good news: a driving licence is not among the list of official documents needed to buy or sell a car in France – just to drive one.

But it’s likely that are asked to provide one when you buy a car.

In that case does what happens if you have a foreign rather than French licence?

We know by reading certain Facebook posts that this question often arises and some people have reported that they were wrongly asked for their French driving licence when buying a car and told that a UK licence, for example, wasn’t acceptable. 

Not having a French driver’s licence should not stop you from being able to buy a car in France.

Kim Cranstoun who runs the Facebook group ‘Applying for a French Driving Licence’ told The Local: “It’s a dealer issue, they have it fixed in their mind that you have to have a French licence mainly because they don’t understand the new agreement and the last thing they read was a UK licence was only valid until the end of 2021.

“As long as you have a valid UK licence you can purchase a car in France. Anyone going into a dealer with a valid UK licence should carry a copy of the agreement,” she said.

Interestingly a driving licence is not on the list of official documents you need to buy a car (see below) but dealer’s will often ask for it if they take charge of registering the car.

What does the seller need?

The seller is responsible for providing the car registration document, called the certificat d’immatriculation and known informally as the Carte Grise.

You must sign a certificat de cession (transfer certificate) along with the buyer, and then declare the sale on the ANTS website within 15 days. 

You should then receive a code de cession (transfer code) which you must also send to the buyer so they can register the vehicle in their name.

If the vehicle is second-hand and more than four-years old, the seller should also provide a recent roadworthiness certificate, proving that the vehicle has passed a contrôle technique (similar to an MoT in the UK), in the past six months.

What does the buyer need?

When you buy a car, you must sign a certificat de cession (transfer certificate) along with the previous owner, who has to declare the sale on the ANTS website within 15 days. 

The seller should then receive a code de cession (transfer code) which they must send you because you will need this to register the vehicle in your name. There is a fee, which usually falls to the buyer to pay for transferring a vehicle registration – which varies depending on the region, type of car, and its CO2 emissions. 

The previous certificat d’immatriculation (registration certificate – aka carte grise) needs to be struck through, and completed with the date of the sale and the seller’s signature.

You will then need to register the car in your name, which can be done online. You have one month to do this, otherwise you risk a fine of up to €750. 

If you are purchasing the car through a dealer, this transfer of registration will be done at the time of the purchase. Be aware, a dealer may ask for your driving licence as part of the process, but – as long as you hold a valid licence, whether it is French or not, you will still be able to go through with your purchase.

In fact, you can ask any certified garage to apply for the carte grise on your behalf, which could save on time and hassle, even if you didn’t buy the car from them.

When applying for a carte grise you will need to submit proof that the vehicle has undergone a contrôle technique (vehicle safety check) within the previous six months if the car is at least four years old.

To register the vehicle, you need the following official documents:

  • Identification (passport or identity card)

  • Proof of residence (typically a utility bill or rental receipt, less than six months old).

  • A copy of the Certificat d’immatriculation/Carte Grise with the appropriate section filled in.

  • The contrôle technique (CT) certificate, if required.

Buying a car with a loan

If you have the funds to buy the vehicle outright, you’ll have no problems – simply hand over the cheque at the appropriate time. It may be harder, however, to access financing for your vehicle if you’re not permanently resident in France.

Driving your new vehicle

If you plan to drive your car away that day, you will also be asked for a copy of a valid insurance certificate for the vehicle – in France, the vehicle is insured rather than the driver. 

Most car insurance companies will provide a provisional certificate to allow you to drive your new purchase. You will then need to finalise details and provide them with a copy of the Carte Grise when it arrives.

Driving licence

If you live permanently in France, sooner or later you may need to swap your driving licence for a French one – but where you learned to drive in the first place could dictate whether you have to take a French driving test. We cover that in depth here – including what’s changed for Britons in France after Brexit.

You can buy some vehicles – known as voitures sans permis – and drive them on some French roads without having a driving licence. Anyone born after 1988 must, however, hold a Brevet de sécurité routière, which has a 15-year limit, and the vehicles are speed limited and can only travel on certain routes.