French Vintners Suggest (Moderate) Drinking and Driving

In spite of government campaigns against drinking and driving, France’s wine industry is promoting a somewhat contrarian viewpoint: Go ahead and a have drink or two, before hitting the road. The message is intended to fight back against the government’s campaign to discourage drunk driving, actions that French vintners claim is scaring people away from ordering a glass with dinner. The industry has suggested that such campaigns – and stricter blood-alcohol limits and drunk-driving laws – have resulted in a 15 percent drop in wine sales at restaurants. At stake is a sizable portion of France’s wine industry’s revenues, estimated at 15 billion euros ($18 billion). Wine makers counter that they have always promoted moderate drinking to comply with the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.5 grams per liter, but fear of law-enforcement efforts has scared people away from drinking at all. The government says road deaths have fallen by more than 20 percent in the first ten months of 2003, compared to the same period last year, and the rates are still high by European standards. Afivin, an umbrella organization representing wine producers as well as distributors and retailers in France, is planning a 300,000-euro ($350,000) initiative to distribute alcohol breath tests to restaurants across France, starting next year, hoping that it can convince those motorists who have stopped drinking altogether to return to their old habits – in moderation, of course. Afivin director Pascal Rousseaux says that diners should know they can enjoy “two or three glasses” with their meal and still be well under the legal blood-alcohol limit, so they will still be fit to drive.