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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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For members

DRIVING

7 things to know about driving in Austria this summer

Taking a summer road trip through Austria is always fun, just make sure that you know what to expect before hitting Austrian roads this summer.

Busy weekends

Being stuck in traffic on a hot day is frustrating, but you can avoid busy times on Austrian roads with the dedicated traffic calendar (Staukalender) by the Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC)

Every year, the ÖAMTC collects details about public holidays, planned construction work, border controls and events to help motorists better plan their trips and make changes to an itinerary.

Users can also click on a specific date to be redirected to the ÖAMTC route planner for further details about traffic, parking spots and nearby petrol stations along a route.

Both the traffic calendar and the route planner are available on desktop or via the ÖAMTC app.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s ‘traffic calendar’ and how can it help me save time?

High fuel prices

Just in case anyone is unaware, fuel is very expensive right now, which means the days of a cheap road trip in Austria are over (for the foreseeable future, anyway).

Thankfully, the ÖAMTC has another useful app to help motorists find the cheapest fuel prices in their area, or wherever they are travelling in Austria.

In the app, users can search by petrol or diesel (depending on their vehicle) to view details of current prices at petrol stations in the selected area.

Additionally, for anyone travelling through Austria and into neighbouring countries, like Italy or Slovenia, it could be worth waiting to fill up the car until after crossing the border. 

The cost of fuel is currently significantly cheaper in many other countries outside of Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Austria this summer

Vignette

In order to drive on Austria’s motorways you need a small toll sticker known as a vignette. 

While these may seem odd to some foreigners, they are absolutely essential for all cars, motorbikes and camper vans – and anyone not displaying one on a motorway or expressway risks a fine of at least €120. 

Vignettes are available at around 6,000 outlets across the country, so anyone who fails to get one will have few excuses. 

A list of outlets is available here and digital vignettes are also available online.  

Unlike the sticker, digital vignettes are affixed to the licence plate. 

High-vis vests

If you breakdown on a road in Austria and need to leave the car, it’s essential to wear a high-vis jacket in either yellow, red or orange. 

It’s also required to place a breakdown triangle near the car to alert others drivers and rescue vehicles.

Rental cars should already be equipped with this kit, but if you’re driving your own vehicle, be sure to pick up a vest and breakdown triangle before setting off. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I take the Austrian driving licence test in English?

Toll (Maut)

Despite having a vignette, some roads in Austria are also subject to a toll.

For example, it costs €38 for a car day ticket to drive along the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in the High Tauern National Park. The price for a motorbike is €28.

Other toll roads are the Brenner Pass (A13) in Tyrol, the Karawanken Tunnel that connects Austria and Slovenia, and the A26 Linz Freeway Westring in Upper Austria.

Alcohol and driving

In Austria, the legal blood alcohol level is 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. 

Penalties for driving under the influence in Austria are severe with a fine up to €5,900, and the possibility of losing a driving licence for one year.

If in doubt, stick to the soft drinks if planning to drive in Austria.

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

Police and speed traps

During the summertime, police are often out in force along Austrian roads to catch speeding drivers.

The national speed limits in the Alpine country are 50 km/hr within the city limits, 100 km/hr outside of the city limits and 130 km/hr on motorways (unless otherwise stated).

To avoid being caught out, be sure to pay attention to the speed limits when driving. But if you do get stopped by police, be prepared to pay the fine straight away.

Police in Austria will accept cash or card payments for speeding fines.

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