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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?
A policeman gives a contravenor a breathalyser test during a roadside check focused on speed near Nantes on June 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Driving in France: Motorway tolls rise from February 1st

The cost of using France’s motorway network rose by a below-inflation average of 4.75 percent on Wednesday, February 1st.

Driving in France: Motorway tolls rise from February 1st

Going through the toll booths on France’s motorway network now costs more – though the average 4.75 percent increase remains below inflation, and is lower than the price rise of between 7 percent and 8 percent predicted last September after Transport Minister Clément Beaune called for “reasonable increases”.

“We are well below the reference inflation rate of 6.33 percent,” Vinci Autoroutes, which manages nearly half of the French network, said in a statement.

Even so, motorists may not appreciate the motorway companies’ efforts to ease the effects of the cost of living crisis, as prices rise unevenly across the board.

A journey from Toulon, in the Var, to Mandelieu, in Alpes-Maritimes (113km) now costs €13 in tolls, up from €12.10 in 2022 – an increase of 7.4 percent.

Drivers heading between Lyon and Montpellier now have to pay an extra €1.90 to make their journey, up 6.7 percent on last year’s prices; and motorists will have to pay an additional €2.10 to make the five-hour journey along the A4 between Paris and Strasbourg.

In recent years, the annual rate of the annual increases has been lower. Tolls went up 2 percent on average last year, and just 0.44 percent in 2021. The annual increases are based on a formula that takes into account the rate of inflation and the amount of maintenance work undertaken, which is written into the motorway operators’ contracts with the government.

For home-work trips, Vinci Autoroutes has frozen the prices of 70 percent of trips of less than 30 km, as well as “half of trips of less than 50km and the bypass routes of 35 towns”.

The stretches between Aubagne and Cassis (Bouches-du-Rhône) on the A50, between Villefranche-de-Lauragais and Toulouse sud (Haute-Garonne) on the A61, and between Orléans nord and Olivet (Loiret) on the A10, for example, will see no price increase.

Subscribers to the Ulys 30 electronic toll system, meanwhile, now receive 40 percent concessions, compared to 30 percent previously on their regular commuter route.

According to Vinci, for every €10 in tolls, €4 is then paid to the government in taxes; €3.50 covers maintenance, modernisation and operating costs; and the remainder repays investors and services debts.

However, motorway operators are regularly singled out for the scale of their profits, recorded at €3.9 billion in 2021, 11 percent more than in 2019. 

If you’re driving in French towns and cities, remember that you may need a Crit’Air sticker – full details HERE.

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