Ah, summer vacation is right around the corner, and many Americans are gearing up to travel outside of the country. Maybe it’s jet-setting off to France and Italy for the wine lovers, or Germany and Belgium for the beer lovers. Where ever one chooses to travel during this summer vacation, it may be worth noting the legal limits to drive a car after drinking.
Surprisingly, those four countries, well known for their love of alcohol, have strict drinking and driving laws. All four have a legal BAC level of .05. In fact many European countries have .05 levels or lower. Sweden, Poland, and Norway have limits of .02. Romania and the Czech Republic have a zero tolerance law—no alcohol level in the blood stream allowed. Zero.
You’ll find similar limits outside of the European Union. Japan lowered the limit to .03 in 2007. Australia—known for its citizens’ love of the drink—has a .02 limit. As we covered in Canada Lowers the Legal Limit: Will It Make Roads Safer from Drunk Drivers?, even our neighbors to the north are looking to lower the legal limit to .05.
If caught drinking and driving, the penalties are rather strict. In the U.K. and Ireland, you may be sentenced to 6 months in jail. Your punishment can be up to two years if caught drinking and driving in France. The average punishment in Japan for a DUI includes fines upwards of $6,000. The limit is .03 BAC, though law enforcement has the discretion to determine whether you appear to “present a risk of driving improperly because of alcohol,” without testing the actual BAC. As a result many just report Japan as a zero tolerance country. Japan’s law also extends to bicyclists, and is heavily enforced for both. But the most notable part of their new law is that every passenger in the car is liable if the driver is drunk and they agreed to ride. There are conflicting interpretations relative to the passenger’s knowledge of the driver’s BAC, and punishments are lower. Yet the philosophy is that anyone in the car with a drunk driver is enabling and entering a social agreement to let them drive intoxicated.
What makes this even more interesting is that many drinkers in these countries find a way home without driving. While a number of European countries are gearing up to tackle issues of public intoxication (and resulting crimes like assault), “drink driving” is less of a focus. Cabs, mass transit, or designated drivers are all options used very often by these alcohol-loving countrymen.
So why do Americans often report that the legal limit of .08 BAC is too low? Why is taking a cab home or asking a sober friend to drive such a distasteful request to many drinkers? We monitor a lot of social media, and the attitude is far more prevalent than you might initially believe. Would a zero tolerance attitude—and law—reduce drunk driving?