How does the breathalyser test in France work again?

July, 31 2017

The alcohol tester (or breathalyser) is something many holidaymakers are familiar with. Since 2012, drivers on French roads need to have 2 tests with them. These days, you no longer get a fine if you don’t have them, but it’s still useful to buy them. In this article, we’ll tell you why.

UPDATE 2020: From May 2020 an alcohol tester is no longer obliged  when you drive through France by car. 

The idea behind making this compulsory is clear: the measure is intended to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents. If a driver is in doubt about his or her ability to drive after drinking, they can easily test whether they can drive for themselves.

As an experienced driver in France, you are not allowed to have more than 0.5 percent alcohol on a breathalyser in order to drive. For those just starting to drive (if they’ve had a license for less than 2 years) the amount is reduced to 0.2 percent. What should you do if you test yourself and find you’re over the limit? You could make your way as a passenger with a sober person doing the driving. If you’re alone, it’s highly recommended that you find an alternative means of transport to get home safely.

Just a little effort, for a huge advantage
Why is it advisable to always have two unused breathalyser tests in your car?  Imagine being pulled over by a police officer who thinks you’ve been drinking. If the gendarme in question doesn’t have a professional breathalyser with him, he could require you to go with him to the police station to take a test there.

You might also be required to buy a test within a couple of days, and to bring your proof of purchase to the police station. Both situations eat into your precious holiday time, and are easy to avoid. Moreover, a disposable breathalyser isn’t expensive, so you don’t need to worry about the cost.

Different breathalyser tests: how do they work, and where can you buy them?
Breathalyser kits come in various types and with various prices. Whichever type you get, it’s important to make sure that it’s NF certified, and that it has a recent date of production. Below is an overview of the various tests, so you can choose which is best for you.

– Disposable breathalyser tests
If you don’t visit France very often, a disposable test (one-time use) is the cheapest option. They cost less than € 10, and you can get them in the ACSI Webshop among other places.
The testers look like a balloon-shaped bag, and you have to blow into them. How do they work?

Put the supplied test tube in the bag, and squeeze all the air out. The substance in the tube will change colour if you’ve used alcohol. If the colour change goes beyond the red line, you’re not allowed to drive anymore. The result is visible in a couple of minutes. Normally, disposable breathalyser tests have a shelf-life of 1-2 years.

– Digital breathalyser tests
If you visit France often, it can be better value to get a digital breathalyser test. That’s because you can use it several times. These kinds of tests have an opening or a small mouthpiece that you blow in to. You keep blowing into them until the test indicates that you can stop. Then you can read what your blood alcohol level is. The downside of digital testers is that they have to be calibrated regularly by the company you bought them from.

If you’re buying one, you also need to make sure that it complies with the NF-standard mentioned above. Gadget-like testers on keyrings make look nice, but often don’t meet the required standard. The price of an approved digital tester varies from about € 20 euro to a few hundred euro. So doing your market research definitely pays off.

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Using it properly
Here are a few things to make sure that you use your breathalyser test properly:

  • Rinse your mouth out after your last alcoholic drink. This prevents any remaining alcohol in your mouth from negatively impacting the test.
  • Always wait at least 10 minutes after rinsing your mouth before testing.
  • It’s advisable not to touch the test tube or the mouth piece, in order to prevent it getting dirty, which might result in an incorrect result.

Pitfalls and tips
Be careful if there’s a manufacturer offering a large discount on a test. This might indicate that the test (either disposable or digital) either doesn’t comply with French standards, or, in the case of a disposable test, that it’s past it’s use by date. It’s handy to buy two disposable tests at the same time, as you’re required to have two anyway. This means you always have one left after you’ve tested yourself.

We’re getting more and more messages from France that it’s no longer possible to buy the tests there as they’re not compulsory. So make sure you buy the tests you need in the Netherlands, before you go on holiday.

Extra tip: Do you have a breathalyser test that is almost out of date, and that you won’t be using in France anyway? Then use the test at home after you’ve had a drink – then you’ll know how to use it if you really need to.

Bon voyage!

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  • Author: Jeroen Timmermans
  • From Calais to Cannes, and from Nantes to Nancy: I have definitely done my fair share of exploring in France. With my parents and my brother, I spent weeks at the most beautiful campsites in a trailer tent. Then we travelled around the rest of Europe in a motorhome. Now I love cultural city breaks with my wife. And I particularly love funiculars and cable cars.


  1. Hi, does this test look different after use when no alcohol is detected?

    • Hi Melanie, I’m not sure about that. But the test is no longer obliged in France.


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