Wednesday 21 February 2018

Know Your Limits: European drinking and driving laws

Nick Trend

Governments around Europe are tightening drinking and driving laws, so read the rules before taking to the wheel abroad, says Nick Trend

I was at a drinks reception in Moscow recently talking to a Russian guest who was in something of a quandary. She was tempted by the glass of wine offered by the waiter, but said that if she took it she would have to leave her car overnight and take the metro home.

Surely, I said, it's okay to have one glass? "No. In Russia there is zero tolerance," she replied.

"They think that if we have one drink we won't be able to stop."

I'm careful not to drink and drive, but this reminded me that my blasé attitude -- that it's okay to have one glass of wine before driving home -- is a habit stemming from our own relatively lax approach to drink-driving.

The problem with being on holiday -- whether in your own car or in a hired one -- is that it is easy to forget that an attitude like that could cost you dearly.

In nearly every other country in which you are likely to travel, the margin of error is significantly lower.

In some, such as Russia, there is no tolerance towards any detectable levels of alcohol.

So, as the main summer holiday season gets under way, here is a guide to drink-driving laws in countries popular with holidaymakers.

Of course, in all cases, the best advice is simply don't drink at all.

The figures given are all for mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.


In line with most European countries, there is a maximum permitted level of 49mg.

If you are tested and register between 50mg and 79mg you will be fined; if it is 80mg or more there is a more severe fine and/or a potential driving ban.

Those who have held their licence for less than two years need to be exceptionally careful -- the limit is close to zero at just 1mg.


There is zero tolerance for all drivers under 24 years old. The legal limit over that age is 50mg.


The limit for all motorists is 50mg and random testing is common. I have been stopped at a roadblock at 3pm in the afternoon -- an exercise obviously aimed at catching lunchtime drinkers.

In severe cases, the police may confiscate your licence and your vehicle. They may also use a saliva test to check for the presence of prescribed drugs.

Since July 1 of this year, it is now compulsory to carry in all cars and on motorbikes an unused breathalyser kit meeting French specifications.

There is a period of grace until November 1, after which those without the kit will face a €15 on-the-spot fine.


A standard level of 50mg, but the figure is zero for drivers aged under 21 or those who have held their licence for less than two years.


The alcohol limit for drivers is 80mg.

Greece and Cyprus

Greece is another country with zero tolerance towards drivers who passed their test less than two years ago. Those who hire scooters and mopeds should note that the zero limit also applies to all motorcyclists.

For all other motorists a limit of 50mg applies. Cyprus has a 49mg limit and a particularly high number of random police checks.


The Italians impose a general 51mg limit, but it is reduced to zero for those with less than three years' driving experience.


The limit is quite a high one at 80mg.


The limit is 50mg. For drivers who passed their test less than five years ago this is reduced to 20mg -- and this lower level also applies to moped riders up to the age of 24.


For levels between 50mg and 80mg you will be fined and lose your licence for at least a month. Penalties increase for readings over 80mg.


Another 50mg limit, with a lower figure of 30mg for drivers who have less than two years' driving experience since passing their test.


The Swiss impose the normal Continental limit of 50mg.


Norway and Sweden are famous for a culture intolerant to drink-driving. The rules in both allow only a tiny margin of error, with a limit of 20mg and particularly severe penalties (including prison) for those in breach of it.

Random breath tests are common in both countries.

Denmark is more in line with the rest of Europe at 50mg.

Over in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia all have a zero limit.


For most drivers it is 50mg. If you are towing a caravan or trailer, however, there is a zero-tolerance policy.

United States

There is a general limit of 80mg, but some states can also impose a lesser charge of driving with a 50mg level.

All states have zero tolerance towards drinking by any driver under 21.

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