DUI DWI Laws in Other Countries

Drunk Driving Laws in Other Countries

Executive Summary

Much of the progress that has been made in impaired driving in the
last decade or more has been facilitated by lessons learned from other
countries. It is therefore both timely and appropriate for the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration to sponsor a systematic effort to
gather information about impaired driving laws from countries around the
world. The intent of this effort is to contribute to our understanding of
impaired driving countermeasures and of how the current situation in the
United States compares to other countries. The parameters of the report
are described below.

Countries Included

The primary purpose of this project is to provide comparisons with the
United States, and therefore possible guidance in the development and
implementation of impaired driving policies in this country. Therefore,
the main focus of data collection was on countries that would be
considered most directly comparable to the United States, economically
and demographically, as well as those countries with which we have the
most direct dealings. These countries include:

  • Members of the European Union, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
    Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The
    Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom
  • Other western European countries, including Norway and
    Switzerland
  • Canada Mexico Australia New Zealand Japan
  • Other countries of possible interest were included as data were
    available.

Laws Included

While many different laws are relevant to impaired driving, this
project focused on several of the most important laws. These laws
include:

Illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) levels for various classes of
drivers; The minimum purchase age for alcohol; Age of driving licensure;
Standard sanctions for first offenses and multiple offenses; The
imposition of more severe sanctions for drivers with higher BACs
Graduated licensing systems; Systems for the regranting of licenses.

Methodology

Most of the information for this report was gathered through inquiries
from key informants identified in each of the countries of interest. Most
informants were from government transportation agencies. Some informants
were from relevant university departments. In some cased, available
information was collected from other published or unpublished sources.
Appendix A indicates the source(s) of information for each country.

Results The results of the overview of laws indicate some of the major
differences across countries and some of the contrasts between the United
States and other countries. Major findings include:

The illegal BAC for most of the United States is higher than for any
of the other countries studied. The minimum purchase age for alcohol is
older in the United States than for almost all other countries studied.
Licensing age for most countries is some years older than the minimum
purchase age for alcohol. Sanctions in other countries tend to be based
primarily on arrest BAC.

The potential impact of international free trade agreements on laws
and policies related to traffic safety must be considered in this
context. Another important factor in international comparisons is the
cultural differences reflected in public attitudes towards impaired
driving and towards relevant laws.

Analysis of the relationship between laws related to impaired driving
and the proportion of alcohol-related crashes is a logical next step.
This analysis must be undertaken with caution because of the complicated
measurement issues inherent in reporting of alcohol involvement in
traffic crashes.

Background and Introduction

Much of the progress that has been made in impaired driving in the
last decade or more has been facilitated by lessons learned from other
countries. For example, the United States drew valuable lessons regarding
deterrence from analyzing the results of the British Road Safety Act of
1967. Similarly, we have learned about alcohol policy and serious
enforcement and penalties from some of the Scandinavian countries. The
Australian experience with random breath testing has influenced some of
our own enforcement efforts. It is therefore both timely and appropriate
for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to sponsor a
systematic effort to gather information about impaired driving laws from
countries around the world. The intent of this effort is to contribute to
our understanding of impaired driving countermeasures and of how the
current situation in the United States compares to other countries. The
parameters of the report are described below.

Countries Included The primary purpose of this project is to provide
comparisons with the United States, and therefore possible guidance in
the development and implementation of impaired driving policies in this
country. Therefore, the main focus of data collection was on countries
that would be considered most directly comparable to the US, economically
and demographically, as well as those countries with which we have the
most direct dealings. These countries include:

Members of the European Union, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Other
western European countries, including Norway and Switzerland, Canada,
Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan were also included.

Other countries of possible interest were included as data were
available. These include Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Russia.

Laws Included While many different laws are relevant to impaired
driving, this project focused on several of the most important laws.
These laws include:

Illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) levels for various classes of
drivers; The minimum purchase age for alcohol;

Age of driving licensure; Standard sanctions for first offenses and
multiple offenses; The imposition of more severe sanctions for drivers
with higher BACs Graduated licensing systems; Systems for the regranting
of licenses.

For some countries, of course, laws are not standard nation-wide, but
rather vary by state or province. Where this is the case, information
about each sub-national entity is reported separately.

Methodology

Most of the information for this report was gathered through inquiries
from key informants identified in each of the countries of interest. Most
informants were from government transportation agencies. Some informants
were from relevant university departments. In some cased, available
information was collected from other published or unpublished
sources.

Comparison of Impaired Driving and Related Laws

Impaired Driving Laws

Several types of legislation may play key roles in controlling
impaired driving. These include the BAC level established as illegal, the
sanctions imposed for impaired driving under different circumstances, the
use of rehabilitation programs for offenders, and the system for
regranting the licenses of offenders whose driving privilege has been
suspended or revoked. Existing laws in each of these areas are described
below.

Illegal BAC

All countries included in the study have established a blood alcohol
content that is considered either per se or preemptive evidence of
impairment. The illegal BAC level has been found to have an effect on
impaired driving crashes (Johnson and Fell 1995, C berg 1995).

All of the countries studied had a BAC level lower than that
established in most of the United States (.10).

The lowest illegal BAC level is in Sweden (.02). The majority of
countries have established .05 as the illegal BAC, with the remaining
countries maintaining an illegal level of .08. The trend has been
downward in recent years, with nine countries having reduced the illegal
BAC level within the past five years or with new lower limits about to be
implemented. These recent reductions in illegal BAC levels have resulted
in some pre-post evaluations of the effects of the change. Belgium
lowered its limit to .05 in December of 1994, reporting a 14 percent
reduction in fatalities in the following year. The legal limit in France
was lowered to .05 in December of 1995. Fatal crashes in 1996 were
reduced by 4 percent (ETSC 1997).

As mentioned above for driver licensing laws, a few countries have
established a lower BAC for young drivers. Such laws have been found to
be effective in the United States in reducing alcohol- related crashes
among young drivers (Hingson et al. 1994, Blomberg 1992).

Interestingly, few countries have established lower BACs for drivers
of commercial vehicles or vehicles used in public transportation. This is
in contrast to laws in the United States regarding commercial drivers in
which any alcohol present removes the driver from service for 24 hours
and a BAC of .04 is a legal violation.

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