SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

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.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

DRIVING IN SPAIN

Can the UK’s Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The UK’s Blue Badge scheme allows disabled drivers to park in special parking spaces closer to their destination, but can it be used if you're on holiday in Spain or living in Spain? The Local has spoken with the British Embassy in Madrid to find out.

Can the UK's Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The Blue Badge for disabled drivers issued by UK authorities features a symbol of a person in a wheelchair and should be displayed in the front of your car if you’re parked in a special disabled spot.

But can you use the same badge in your car in Spain?

When the UK was still part of the EU, these disabled badges for parking could be used throughout the bloc, but since January 1st 2021 when Brexit officially came into force, there have been some doubt regarding this. 

In other words, some disabled drivers visiting Spain who wish to rent a car or British residents living in Spain with UK disability cards are now uncertain as to whether their badges will be recognised here or not. 

In Spain, on roads and in car parks, parking places reserved for disabled people are marked with a wheelchair symbol.

The EU has its own parking card for people with disabilities and the recognition of the UK’s badge has always been an informal agreement between governments.

The advice from the UK government has always been for UK Blue Badge holders to check locally within the country they are travelling to, before using it abroad. 

The British Embassy in Madrid told The Local: “This advice did not change following the UK’s exit from the EU and to date no EU/EEA nation has specifically stated that it will not recognise a UK-issued disabled parking card”. 

However, the rules and advice are slightly different depending on if you are visiting Spain or living here. 

The UK government website states “You can use your UK Blue Badge when travelling in some European Union (EU) countries, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland”.

However, under the list of EU countries where you can use the UK Blue Badge, the UK government says Spain is “undecided” and asks drivers to check with the Spanish Embassy for more information.

This is causing a lot of uncertainty among UK Blue Badge holders and has sparked many debates on social media groups used by Brits in Spain. 

The British Embassy in Madrid has confirmed to The Local that: “Where the table states ‘undecided’, that doesn’t indicate that a particular nation has stated they will not recognise a UK issued parking card, merely that the UK doesn’t have a specific notification of reciprocity of the UK’s goodwill gesture”. 

This means that while Spain has not officially said that it will not recognise a disabled blue parking badge issued in the UK, there is no reciprocal agreement in place. 

While many British people visiting Spain say that they are continuing to use them without problem, others are reporting that Spanish authorities in some areas will not accept them anymore.

One member of the N332 Facebook group, (a group created by Spanish traffic police officers and volunteers) wrote: “To be honest I use my blue badge in Spain and it has not caused me any issues since Brexit. I think as long as a badge is displayed in the parking spaces no one will say or do anything”.

However, another commentator said that their friend was fined for using a UK blue badge in Spain.

According to the Spanish authorities, fines of up to €200 can be handed out for those who park in a disabled spot without the proper permit, although that’s not to say that a UK Blue Badge is not a proper permit.

So if you’re visiting Spain and have a disabled parking card, you should contact the local authorities first to find out if you can use your UK-issued parking card, otherwise you technically could be using it at your own risk and could be fined.  

In some places in Spain, you may find that authorities turn a blind eye, while in others may tell you that your badge is not valid.

Can you use your UK Blue Badge if you’re living in Spain?

The UK government website states: “If you have a UK Blue Badge and live in Spain, you must return it to the original UK issuing authority. You can apply for a new Spanish disabled parking card. The process is different in each region of Spain. Contact your local town hall or social services department for further information”.

So those who live in Spain should apply for the equivalent of the UK’s blue badge here. This is called the Tarjeta acreditativa de discapacidad or Tarjeta de grado de discapacidad, depending on where you live.

Examples of different disabled parking cards issued by Spain’s regions. Image: Fundación Once

The not-for-profit project Support in Spain warns that it can be a lengthy process to apply for the Spanish equivalent and that many have been waiting months or even years for their cards to be issued. This has left many foreign disabled residents in Spain in a difficult situation.

Another member of the N332 Facebook group wrote: “Why does it take so long to get a blue badge in Spain? My husband has advanced Parkinson’s and dementia. We have been waiting almost a year and our town hall tells me this is normal”. 

How to apply for Spain’s disabled parking card?

Firstly, in order to apply, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor in Spain to certify that you have a degree of disability that warrants a disabled parking card. Typically, applicants must prove that they have a disability of at least 33 percent in order to be eligible for the Spanish disabled parking card.

Your doctor may also need to refer you to a specialist. Getting this disability certificate, or reconocimiento de discapacidad as it’s called in Spanish, is the reason the process takes so long. This certificate is the same document you’ll need in order to apply for disability benefits in Spain too.

As mentioned above, the process of applying is slightly different, depending on what region of Spain you live in. Typically, you will have to go to your local Equality and Social Policies Department (Departamento de Igualdad y Políticas Sociales) or at your local town hall (ayuntamiento) and fill out the necessary paperwork.

This will then need to be submitted along with your disability certificate and any notes from your doctors, before your application can be processed. 

Those who are worried about how long the process will take should contact their local town hall to find out the average time frame in their area. 

SHOW COMMENTS