Take Care During Your Vacation: Alcohol Limits in Europe


According to the WHO, Europe is the continent with the highest per capita consumption of alcohol. Whether at the Oktoberfest in Bavaria or in French wine taverns: The Europeans love to drink, but the regulations about who is considered impaired by alcohol differ throughout the EU.


The upper permille limits over which active participation in road traffic is no longer permitted are relatively consistent in the EU, but penalties and additional distinctions vary.
Most Member States, including Austria, Germany, Italy, France and Spain, set the limit at 0.5‰.
This value is basically a compromise between the advocates of a 0.8 ‰ scheme and the supporters of a general ban of alcohol on the wheel. There is no scientific basis for this value.
At less than 0.5 permille, light / dark vision already deteriorates, and reaction and adaptability are already severely impaired.
A driver may still be able to perform a routine activity like driving home, but in unexpected situations such as pedestrians suddenly crossing the road, "slightly" inebriated drivers show delayed reactions.
An argument for a general ban on alcohol in traffic is that it would be much easier to drink nothing than to drink very little, according to prevention expert Johannes Lindenmeyer in an article of the German newspaper "Zeit".

Differentiated Penalties

In addition to the permille limits, the laws of the EU Member States often differentiate between other factors, e.g. the age of the impaired driver, the vehicle type and cases like alcohol abuse during the probation period.
Furthermore, in European countries the classification of alcohol at the wheel as an administrative offense differs, which affects the amount of the sentence.
Especially in many eastern countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, alcohol on the wheel is generally banned, which requires special caution from drivers due to low alcohol levels in food and some medicaments.
The British and very few other states are the least strict with a permille limit of 0.8. On the other hand, the English penalties are much higher with an average of € 6,400.

Take Care Before You Go on Vacation

In any case, tourists are advised to inform themselves about the local regulations regarding alcohol on the wheel before their holidays.
In Sweden, for example, the limit is only 0.2 permille. In addition, alcohol tests can be carried out without suspicion, and convicted drunk drivers are threatened by imprisonment.
In general, the Scandinavian and Baltic states are considered to be very strict concerning their enforcement of alcohol directives, especially in comparison to the rather liberal Central European countries.
Even those who get caught for the first time have to give in their driving license for one month.
Sometimes it is hard for us to recognize what is negligently a criminal offense at our neighbors: If you are happy about finding a free parking lot in Amsterdam, you will have to dip into your purse later, since there are only charged parking spaces that are not always immediately recognizable as such for Germans.

"Odd" Regulations in Other Countries

Some foreign regulations seem to be particularly bizarre: In Denmark, for example, drivers are legally required to check the space beneath their car before starting it (after all, a person might sleep below the vehicle…).
In addition, drastic measures against traffic offenders were made as a reaction to high accident rates: Drivers caught by the Danish police with more than 2 permille have to leave their car to the state before it will be put up for auction.
The same punishment threatens Italian drivers with more than 1.5 permille.
In Croatia, the police have to be called in case of an accident in road traffic. Yet in Austria, drivers who call the police even though only property damage has been caused and all participants could have exchanged the necessary information among themselves, have to pay a “Blaulichtsteuer” (Blue Light Tax).

ACE Instruments recommends:

If you are on holiday, you usually can't get around a glass of wine or a sip of schnapps in the restaurant.
But guests should be informed about the rules of their host and respect them. This especially applies to alcohol restrictions on the road.
Accidents abroad are already very problematic and unpleasant even in the case of light vehicle damage.
At the same time, much higher penalties and varying permille limits should be kept in mind.
Whoever thinks that they can "sin" abroad with impunity is wrong: Since 2010, a fine issued in another EU country with a value of 70 euros or more will follow you to your home country.
Obviously, the legal upper limit should never be exempted, but if you want to have an overview of the perimeters and traffic penalties in Europe, you will find a helpful ADAC infotype below (as of 2017).
In principle, however, the best advice is to keep away from your vehicle if you are drunk: Whether in your home country or on holiday.

Quellen und weiterführende Informationen:
ADAC: Permille Limits in Europe (with an overview of different penalties)
ADAC: Alkohol und Straßenverkehr (German)
Zeit Online: Alkohol am Steuer: Wie viel Promille dürfen es sein? by Susanne Kilimann (German)
Autoextrem.de: Alkohol: Promillegrenzen und Strafen in Deutschland und Europa - Überblick und Tipps by Gunter Amonn (German)