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Cultural Differences in Drink Driving Law

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Drink driving law in UK and Europe

The amount of alcohol as a proportion of a person’s blood is the usual method of assessing whether somebody is legally allowed to be in control of a vehicle. Alcohol consumption is often measured with a breathalyser due to the immediacy of the results, however blood alcohol content (BAC) can also be measured by taking samples of a person’s blood or urine. The EU has created guidelines for legal levels of alcohol consumed, however there are variations that exist between countries. There are also differences in the punishments that are given to those that break the law.

How BAC is presented differs by country, however it is simple to compare the different methods. The UK often uses milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood, for example 50mg/ml, or 120mg/ml. In Europe countries often show this as a percentage, such as 0.05% or 0.12%. As blood is roughly (but not precisely) equivalent in weight to water, these are almost directly comparable numbers.

UK drink driving law allows for a higher percentage of BAC than most countries in Europe. The average limit for blood alcohol is 0.05%, while in the UK the limit is 0.08%. It should be noted that the legal limit in Scotland is 0.05%, which is lower than the rest of the UK. Some countries in the EU have different punishments depending on the age of the offender, or the exact amount of alcohol that is in a person’s blood.

While France and Germany both state their legal limit as 0.05%, they are far less lenient for new drivers. In France the legal limit is 0.02% for drivers that have had their license for under three years, and in Germany the limit is classed as zero for drivers with under two years’ experience (or under the age of 21). What this means is that if police have reason to believe that a driver has been drinking, they can still issue a fine and a suspension.


Differences In Punishments For Breaking The Law

UK drink driving law is strict in comparison to those on the continent. The law states that it is a criminal offense to be in control of a vehicle and to be over the legal limit. However, there is some debate regarding what constitutes being in control of a vehicle. If a person has the ability to drive a vehicle, and the police regard them as having the intent to drive (e.g. holding the keys and sitting in the driver seat) then they can still issue a punishment. Likewise, if the police believe that a passenger in the car was at any point in control of the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, they can be prosecuted. However, our expert drink driving solicitors understand the complexities of the system and can guide you through the decision-making process from the time of your charge onwards.

The punishment in the UK for breaking drink driving laws may be a custodial sentence, a fine of up to £5000, and a minimum of twelve months suspension from driving. If an individual is convicted for a second time within ten years, the minimum driving ban is three years. In cases where there is the loss of life due to driving under the influence of alcohol, there is a penalty of fourteen years in prison, and a minimum ban of two years. It is a criminal offence to refuse a breath, urine, or blood test, and the penalties are the same as those for drink driving.

This is very different from France and Germany, who each start with a small fine and a small suspension (€135 fine and 6 demerit points, €500 fine and one-month license suspension respectively). This rising quickly depending on the amount of BAC the driver reports.

In France if the driver has a BAC of 0.08% (the legal limit in the UK), they receive a €4500 fine, and up to two years in prison. In Germany the thresholds are higher. A BAC of 0.11% results in a €500 and a 6-month ban, and 0.16% requires that the driver passes a Medical Psychological Assessment before they can have their license reissued. After the first infringement, the punishments are more severe, with fines of €1000 replacing the €500 previously.

The differences that exist between countries can of course create confusion when people are travelling. To stay safe, then, the best option is to avoid alcohol consumption altogether when driving.

If you would like some expert advice from our drink driving solicitors, call us today for a free consultation.