New French Law to Require Breathalyzers in All Cars (Rentals too)

I’ve spent many an afternoon driving through the countryside of France–my mother’s homeland–in a small, Peugeot rental car. Together, my mom and I have pulled over alongside a field of sunflowers or a stretch of sandy beach to lay out a picnic where we’d eat and sip the locally made wine. On my next trip, however, I’ll not only think twice about taking the wheel after a picnic, but I’ll also be blowing into a Breathalyzer to be certain my blood alcohol level is within the legal limit.

Beginning July 1, a new law in France will require all motor vehicles (except mopeds) to have a breathalyzer on hand. (The new rule can be found in French at Legifrance.)  It seems unexpected that a country like France, known for its love of le vin, would spearhead this campaign against drinking and driving, but perhaps not surprisingly, nearly 30 percent of all road fatalities in France are alcohol-related—a higher rate than in Germany and the UK. In fact, alcohol has been the leading cause of road deaths in France since 2007.France map

To bring these numbers down and save lives (and there is an election coming), French President Sarkozy has chosen to target drunk driving. According to numerous reports, French authorities will accept a one-time disposable type that costs less than two dollars. They are recommending, however, that motorists buy them in pairs so there’s an additional one in case a fellow-imbibing passenger is in need.

The French police will begin strictly enforcing the new law as of November 1, with many spot checks on roads. The idea is that every time a driver (native or tourist) gets into their car after having a drink, they will have a device with which to test if there blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the mandated blood alcohol limit for drinking in France, .05 BAC. That is a much stricter limit than the U.S. limits of .08 in 17 states and 0.10 in 33 states, according to a US government survey.

Because the drunk driving penalty in France is much higher than the “no breathalyzer” fine, the hope is that drivers will eventually begin to self-test before driving. They may risk not having the breathalyzer on hand if they are stopped, but at least they’ll know if they are under the legal limit and the fine will be less.

It’s possible that this new law may pose some linguistic challenges for non French-speaking tourists who wish to cruise around the countryside. A piece in Budget Travel magazine reports that Hertz rental cars will provide the breathalyzers for free; Avis and Budget had no comment yet on the situation.

France is the first country to enact a breathalyzer on-hand legislation, and I imagine the rest of the world will be watching to see how it affects the road toll. If the new legislation saves lives, the law might be something to consider on this side of the Atlantic. Vive la France…?

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An Eye-Opening New Study on Women and Drunk Driving

A new study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation found that drunk driving arrests for women have increased 36 percent over the last decade. The impetus for the study was the infamous Diane Schuler crash, when the mother of two—drunk and high–drove her minivan down the wrong side of the highway, killing herself, her daughter, her three nieces and three men in another car.

It’s easy for people to distance themselves from Diane Schuler—she was a drunk. She had problems. She was high. She swilled vodka in secret. I’m nothing like her.  I’m just drinking a few civilized glasses of wine with a friend.

Still—the drunk driving statistics speak for themselves, and call attention to the gray areas. Such as: Is it okay to drive home after having a few glasses of wine with dinner? The answer is: It depends. On how big the glass, and how generous the pour. On your body weight, and tolerance. On the timing of the drinks. On how much you ate.

What’s interesting to note is that the study also found that the average female drunk driver is older and better educated than her male counterparts, holds a lower-paying job, and is the primary caregiver to her children.

Maybe those cocktail-hour mom playdates are more popular than we think, even post Diane Schuler, when everyone’s awareness (and paranoia) rose. And maybe we need to talk more openly about the stress caregivers feel, and be more respectful towards what they do.

The study also pinpoints this fact: when it comes to drinking and driving, especially when children are involved, you can never be too careful.

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The New Face of Drunk Driving: The Buzzed Everywoman

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Move over, men, there’s a new face in drunk driving: the sensible everywoman.

Remember “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk?” and how you couldn’t get that phrase out of your head? Well, the Ad Council, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), has come up with an equally unforgettable public service announcement: Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving.

At first glance, the video on You Tube, made to support the latest anti- drunk-driving campaign, looks like business as usual. The camera focuses in on a very drunk blonde, maniacally laughing, clutching her beer bottle.

Then things go all wrong, and she knocks her front teeth out with the beer bottle. Does she get upset? No. As she continues laughing, her missing front teeth prominently displayed, the camera pans over to her friend, who is way more sober, only politely laughing, and is putting on her jacket, ready to leave and, presumably, drive home.

And this is where the twist comes in: Instead of panning back to the smashed woman, the camera pans over to her friend, the sensible-looking brunette (natch), as if to say, Not So Fast! The camera then freezes on the sensible brunette and a voiceover says: Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving. Sobering? I think so. We can laugh at the overly drunk woman, but the buzzed woman–well, the buzzed woman could be anyone you know. It could be you.

If the slogan, “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving,” sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is. The PSA, first released in 2005, was originally targeted at men, ages 21-34. So why the re-release? And why the focus on women, not men? According to the NHTSA, the number of women DUIs rose 30% in the 10 years between 1998 and 2007, while DUIs by men went down.

Television spots are set to air just in time for the winter holidays, but the Ad Council is also betting on social media sites, like Facebook, to spread the message. A visit to the site’s fan page, Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving, turned up 574 fans. The Twitter page has 552 and counting. So far, the You Tube video (described above) has had over 10,000 hits. And there are other videos on You Tube as well.

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Cheerio! A New Cell Phone Application Lets Brits Keep Track of Their Drinking

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In an attempt to keep its citizens from drinking too many Hot Toddies and G&Ts (that’d be gin and tonics) this holiday season, the United Kingdom’s Department of Health is offering a free cell phone application for keeping track of just how many drinks those chaps are consuming.

The alcohol tracker application, which can be downloaded from the NHS Choices website (for Windows or iTunes), will display graphs tracking the drinking patterns of its user. By entering the amount of wine, beer, whiskey, or whatever they’ve consumed, the tracker will then calculate the units of alcohol imbibed, and ultimately present personalized feedback on their drinking habits.

The motive behind the new tracker is both to shrink the number of drunk-driving accidents and reduce excessive drinking, which has been linked to a range of health problems, stated a BBC report. “It is all too easy to lose track of how much you drink,” said the UK’s public health minister Gillian Merron, “ so as the festive parties build up, this innovative tool will help people keep tables on their drinking – wherever they are.”

Drinkaware, a “responsible drinking charity,” has backed the tracker device, and its CEO Chris Sorek comments, “Trying to stick within the daily unit guidelines will help people avoid the January slump and the long term health implications associated with drinking too much alcohol.”

I say, “Long live the Queen.”

And when do we get that app in the U.S.A.?

What do you hens think?

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N.Y. Introduces New DUI Law–Toughest in the Nation

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Although the facts show that men make up the vast majority of drunk driving cases, two recent and tragic driving incidents involving women drivers have resulted in the deaths of children, provoking New York State and Governor Paterson to enact a new and ever-tougher DUI law, known as Leandra’s Law.

According to  recent news reports by CBS News, CNN and other major media sources, Leandra’s Law is named after an 11-year-old New York City girl killed in a crash last month after a friend’s mother allegedly drove drunk.

Under the new law, first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more or under the influence of drugs, and with a child age 15 or under in the vehicle, will automatically have their drivers license suspended, will have to install an ignition interlock device in their car and may be charged with a felony punishable up to four years in prison.

Results of a study conducted by the federal Department of Transportation last summer–just around the time of the Diana Schuler accident on the Taconic, killing eight people (four of whom were children)–revealed that the number of women arrested for DUI is up 29 percent over the last 10 years. And to further the tragedy, women apparently who drive drunk, causing fatal crashes, are are three times as likely to have a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle.

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