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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.

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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DRIVING

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Over the past few months France has brought in several new laws relating to the roads - here is what you need to know, whether you're a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist.

Changes for bicycles

France already has quite strict laws in place for cyclists, including a ban on listening to music on headphones while cycling, but as the government attempts to boost cycling in France, some additional laws have come into effect.

New categories – Starting in October 2022, France will create two additional categories for bicycles: the vélomobile (bicyles with protective panelling) and the vélo couché (horizontal bicycles). As these bikes are lower to the ground and more difficult for motorists to detect, they will be banned on roads where speed limits exceed 50 km/h.

Fast bicycles – Bicycles whose electric assistance allows them to go up to 45km/h will have to ride on a D9 track on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or more. This type of track allows for a separate space for pedestrians and cyclists. These types of bicycles should not ride on D10 tracks (where the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians) for safety reasons.

Reflectors – New rules will go into place at the start of October also allow bicycles to use orange or yellow reflectors, which were previously prohibited. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about cycling in France

Changes for drivers

Signs

Signs banning the use of “cruise control” were repealed starting October 1st.

Additionally, starting in October, on the road in front of railroad crossings, a checkerboard marking area will be added to limit the possibility of accidents. This is intended to help vehicles be more aware of where they cannot enter, particularly if they are to be blocked in that space due to traffic. 

QUIZ How well do you know your French driving laws?

Electric vehicles

Starting October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Violators risk a fine of €58.

Driverless cars

Starting September 1st, a new set of laws went into place that allowed for the licensing of more types of autonomous vehicles on the road in France, albeit with some limits.

Specifically, the laws concern “Level 3” (on a scale of 1 to 5) ‘semi-autonomous vehicles.’ These vehicles can operate either with a driver or automatically. However, France is still a long way from allowing unmanned vehicles on the roads, and it is important to note that so far only one such semi-autonomous vehicle has been approved for use – the Mercedes S-Class. Several other manufacturers have also announced their plans to launch their own versions.

City vehicle limits

Several new cities have introduced either introduced or extended their current rules regarding low-emission zones, which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain areas, based on the Crit’Air sticker system.

As of September 1st, the cities of Marseilles, Lyon and Rouen introduced such changes.

All vehicles are required to display a Crit’Air sticker, which gives them a rating of 1-5 based on their emissions level.

In Marseille Crit’Air 5 vehicles will be banned from a zone in the city centre, while the law comes into effect on September 1st, police will only start issuing fines on October 1st.

In Lyon the low-emission zone which is already in place in the city and its surrounding suburbs will now include private vehicles – previously it only concerned commercial vehicles. It covers Crit’Air 3,4 and 5 vehicles, however fines will only start being given in January 2023, until then police will simply inform drivers of the new rules.

READ MORE: MAP: Which French cities have vehicle bans or restrictions?

Rouen too is expanding its low-emission zone – which covers 13 communes of the city and its suburbs – to include private vehicles with a Crit’Air 4 or 5 rating.

A similar scheme is already in place in Paris, covers vehicles with Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 ratings, while several other cities have intermittent schemes that come into effect when pollution levels rise. 

The sticker requirement covers both French and foreign-registered cars.

“Contrôle techniques” for motocycles and two-wheel vehicles

Technically, all motorised two-wheel vehicles were expected to need to submit to inspects as per a 2014 directive from the European Union.

In France this means the Contrôle technique – the regular vehicle inspection already required for cars (similar to the MOT in the UK). This would affect owners of motorised two-wheelers (scooters, motorcycles, mopeds) larger than 50 centimetres cubed. It would also impact owners of unlicensed cars, three-wheeled scooters, sidecars and quads.

If you have a vehicle dating from before 2016, according to the directive by the European Union, you should do your technical inspection prior to October 1st. For vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2020, you have (in theory) until January 1, 2024. There is no set time frame for newer vehicles.

However, there has been much confusion surrounding this rule. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has attempted to pass legislation eliminating the obligation, but the legal status of the French government’s attempts are unclear, as they are still being judged by the European Commission. There will likely be more clarity on the subject, including further regulations regarding sound pollution, in the coming months, according to La Nouvelle Republique

According to reporting by La Voix du Nord, owners of two-wheeled vehicles do not have to worry about being fined if they have not yet submitted to inspections. 

Paris 

Within the city of Paris, riders of motorbikes, mopeds and scooters now have to pay for parking.

The new rules come into effect on Thursday, September 1st and concern motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Anyone who parks a motorbike, moped or a scooter with an internal combustion engine in public parking spaces within the Paris area has to pay.

READ MORE: Paris brings in new parking fees for motorbikes and scooters

Low-emission two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, can still park for free – however you will still need to register with the scheme. 

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