Drink Driving Limits From Around The World
Whether you’re planning a family holiday abroad or organising a six-month road trip around the world, there are certain elements to tick off - booking accommodation, hiring a car, ordering currency, finding the passports! But if you’re going to be driving abroad, how often do you research the legal alcohol limits of the country you’re going to?
There’s no two ways about it - the safest way to drive is to not drink at all. But if you’ve had a late night watching the sun go down with a couple of glasses of wine, you may still find yourself over the legal alcohol limit the next morning without realising. Alcohol affects people differently, and the length of time it takes to get it out of your system depends on how much you’ve had to drink, as well as your sex, weight, age and various other factors, such as whether you’ve been taking any medication.
To help you navigate through the different laws around the world, we’ve put together a map which shows the world’s legal drink driving limits, country by country, so that you can plan confidently and safely for a trip to remember - and not one to forget!
The safest and best advice we can offer is to avoid alcohol completely if you have to drive. This is because alcohol slows down our reaction times and even tiny amounts can impair judgment. Alcohol also slows down the brain, which affects our reasoning and self-control.
Getting caught over the legal limit abroad can be costly, with punishments ranging from hefty fines to losing your licence - and even a prison sentence. For example, in South Africa, you could face up to six years in jail if you’re found to be over the legal limit of 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC), whilst in countries like Norway, you could be fined a month’s wages if you have more than 0.02% BAC. Many countries have either a total ban on alcohol or a zero tolerance approach, where it is illegal to have any alcohol detected in your blood – so it’s essential you know the law before you travel.
If your journey takes you across a border, then you should make sure you’re aware of that country’s laws, too. A perfectly legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in one country may be over the limit in a neighbouring one. A twelve-hour road trip from Tromso in Norway to Murmansk in Russia will take you through four countries with three different alcohol limits. In the UK, the legal driving limit is 0.08% BAC in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - but the limit is lower in Scotland at 0.05%.
Savvy drivers on the continent should be aware of the different rules and regulations for each country that they drive through. Much of western and central Europe has a legal limit of 0.05% - but this can be lower if you’re a commercial driver or under 21. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Greece all share a 0.05% limit. However, travel to Poland and the limit is much stricter; drivers here cannot have a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.02% - if you do, it’s punishable by up to two years in prison.
If you’re travelling across North America, then most states of the US, including Florida, California and Illinois have a limit of 0.08%, but there are some important differences if you’re under 21 years old or a commercial driver. In some states, including Illinois, there’s a zero tolerance approach if you’re under 21 and in California, it’s just 0.01%.
A New Zealand road trip offers up stunning landscapes that can take you from Alpine lakes to sandy bays. The drink drive limit is 0.05% and drivers caught over that limit could face up to three months in prison and a fine of up to $4500.
Surprisingly, there are some countries which have no upper alcohol limit at all. In Barbados, it’s not illegal to drink and drive - but you can get caught for driving without due care and attention if under the influence. Some countries also have lower alcohol limits for younger or commercial drivers.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels represent the percent of your blood that is concentrated with alcohol. For example, a BAC of 0.10% means that an individual's blood supply contains one part alcohol for every 1000 parts blood.
Refusal to undergo a BAC test in Andorra will result in a fine of €300 and suspension of your license for three months.
In Albania, if the level of alcohol in the bloodstream exceeds what is allowed, which is a BAC of 0.05%, a fine between €20 and €81will be enforced, and you’ll have your driving license suspended from six to 12 months. If the driver refuses to take a test for the presence of alcohol in the blood, a fine between €41 and €162 will be imposed, and they will also suspend the individual’s driving license for six to 12 months.
Furthermore, in Croatia violating the law in regards to driving and alcohol will get you a penalty based on the alcohol amount in your blood. BAC levels beyond the allowable will be fined accordingly in Croatia:
Similarly, in New Zealand, those who are caught driving while under the influence of alcohol will lose their license for six months, receive a large fine and gain a criminal record in the country. It’s essential to remember that the BAC limit in New Zealand is 0.05%.
In India, the legal BAC limit is 0.03% and punishment for drunk driving depends on whether this is your first or second offense. If it is your first offense, the punishment is imprisonment for six months, a fine of €119, or both. If it is your second offense committed within three years, the punishment is two years, a fine of €7481, or both.
In South Africa, the legal BAC is less than 0.05%, and being caught drunk driving means you'll be liable to pay for the drunk driving charges, which are up to €7482. Drunk driving cases in South Africa are widespread, and the law has become stricter. A drunk driving case law in South Africa can now be punishable by up to six years in jail.
Moreover, in Brazil, any BAC that is below 0.06% results in a fine. This is doubled if there is a recurrence plus a 12-month license suspension. However, anything above this is considered a criminal offense.
The next South American country to cover is Chile, where a 0.03 to 0.08% BAC means the driver is considered to be driving under the influence and carries a three-month driving suspension and a fine of €74 to €372. A BAC level of over 0.08% carries a prison term of 61 to 301 days, a fine of €148 to €744, a two-year suspension for the first offense, a five-year suspension for a second offense, and a life-long suspension for a third offense.
In Malaysia, if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, you will be required to pay a fine not exceeding €430 and a prison sentence of no longer than six months. Both Malaysian drivers and tourists are expected to adhere to these rules.
Another Asian country with surprising drink driving laws is the Philippines, where drivers who are suspected to be doing so have to conduct sobriety tests. If a driver refuses to undergo a field sobriety test, this will cause the confiscation of their driving license.
Additionally, in Turkey, if you are found to be drink driving, your license will be suspended, and you will be fined depending on whether it is your first, second, or third drink driving offense, starting at €141.
In Finland, the penalty for driving while under the influence of alcohol is a fine or jail for up to six months with a suspension of your license from one month to five years.
In the next European country of France, a €135 fine and six demerit points on the driver's license are enforced when an individual is found to be driving under the influence of alcohol, which can be suspended for up to three years.
In Greece, you can not drive if your BAC is over 0.05% as this is considered a flagrant misdemeanor punishable with up to two years of imprisonment and a hefty fine in the court plus the revocation of the driver's license for six months. Routine breath testing without probable cause is permitted by the Greek traffic police, especially on weekends and major holidays.
It may be surprising to some, but in the Netherlands educational measures or rehabilitation courses are handed out when disobeying the law, and they are compulsory. The LEMA (Light Educational Measure Alcohol and Traffic) consists of two half-days of 3.5 hours each. LEMA is intended for drivers with a BAC between 0.8% and 1.0%.
Finally, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the legal BAC limit for the general population is 0.08%. The maximum sentence for "being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink" is a €2,987 fine, a three-month prison sentence, or a driving ban. It is important to note, however, that in Scotland, the upper BAC limit is 0.05%.
The maximum sentence in the United Kingdom imposed for "driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink" is six months' imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or a driving ban for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in 10 years).
Which countries have zero tolerance for drinking and driving?
The following countries have zero tolerance for driving while under the influence of alcohol for the general population: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Gambia, Hungary, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
The following countries have a zero-tolerance toward driving while under the influence of alcohol for young/novice drivers: Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Gambia, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Other countries that have zero tolerance for driving while under the influence of alcohol for young/novice drivers are Italy, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, the Republic of North Macedonia, Tunisia, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
With the varying laws surrounding drunk driving in the world, it is essential to be aware, especially the drink driving limits of countries you are planning to visit.
However, here at DiscoverCars.com, we always suggest not driving even if you have only had one drink, as everyone metabolizes alcohol differently.
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All legal information relevant to drinking and driving limits and fines in featured countries has been correct at the time of writing on the 21st of May 2019.
Please ensure you check the county you are visiting law to understand your responsibilities and rights.
Raw data can be found here.