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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.

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.

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For members

BREXIT

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

After reports this week that Danish authorities plan to deport a British national who failed to apply for post-Brexit residence status on time, we look at how other EU countries have applied residency permit rules following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

Phil Russell, a UK national who lives in the western part of Zealand with his Danish partner, submitted an application for a post-Brexit residence permit four days after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

Russell has since been informed he must leave the country by December 6th but has the right to appeal the decision. He has notified authorities that he intends to appeal and his residence and working rights in Denmark are protected while the appeal is ongoing.

READ ALSO:

Under Denmark’s application of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU free movement rules before December 31st, 2020 were required to submit an application for new residence status and a new residence document by the end of 2021.

Up to September 30th, Danish authorities have received 290 late applications for post-Brexit continued residency status.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Article 5 states that the EU and UK must “take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising from this Agreement and shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement.”

One of the stated objectives of the agreement is to protect the rights of citizens to continue living and working in their respective countries after Brexit.

Below, we look at how other countries have continued residence rights for Britons who lived in those countries prior to Brexit.

Sweden

On its website, the Swedish Migration Agency says it “can accept an application for residence status that has come in after” its deadline which, like in Denmark, was December 31st 2021.

“This presupposes that there are reasonable grounds for why you did not apply in time. A review will be done of each individual case,” the agency says.

People with permanent residence permits have the right to continue to stay in Sweden as usual even after the deadline, according to the Migration Agency. Those with temporary residence permits in Sweden may need to apply for a work permit.

The Swedish rules have nevertheless caused some uncertainty for resident Britons.

According to a section on the Migration Agency website, post-Brexit residence status “applies indefinitely”. The certificate which was issued to those who applied before the deadline of December 31st 2021, however, is only valid for five years. 

This has left many of those holding the certificate concerned that laws might change to prevent them from renewing their certificate when that period ends. 

READ ALSO:

France

Like Denmark, application for a post-Brexit residence card was required in France.

In June 2021, the French government extended the deadline to apply for residency for British nationals

France extended its deadline due to high demand and new Covid-19 restrictions in 2021, and because French authorities were aware many Britons were unlikely to meet the original deadline.

All Brits who were living in France before December 30th 2020 needed to apply for a residency permit known as a carte de séjour. The official deadline to do so was Wednesday, June 30th.

However with an estimated 25,000 Brits still to apply and thousands more still waiting for their application to be processed, French authorities decided to extend the deadline to September 30th, 2021. 

Spain

Spanish authorities have been lenient and informative regarding how Brits can guarantee their Withdrawal Agreement rights, but a number of Britons in Spain did not have residency or other official documents and could not prove they were living in Spain before 2021.

According to reports, people in that situation have been told to leave at (sometimes very) short notice and apply for a non-EU residency visa if their residency application is rejected.

However, previous (pre-Brexit) EU residency documents that Britons have are still valid and it’s not compulsory to update to Spain’s new non-EU residence card. As such, only people who were not previously registered have run into issues.

Italy

Italy’s post-Brexit card isn’t mandatory but the British Embassy in Italy advises residents to apply for it to prove their status under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This means you don’t need a residency card if you have alternative proof of pre-Brexit residency.

However, while Italian authorities have often accepted other forms of proof, they have also sometimes required the card, causing some level of uncertainty.

READ ALSO: How many of Italy’s British residents have successfully applied for a post-Brexit residency card?

Germany

Residence rights after Brexit were automatically granted to British nationals who lived in Germany prior to the deadline, so they don’t need Germany’s residence card – although it is still recommended-

There have been reports of passport stamping for British residents in Germany, even if they have the residence card.

Overall, Germany has a lenient system, transferring rights automatically and without demand application for a new card or updated residence status.

READ ALSO: How Brits can prove their post-Brexit rights in Germany – before they get their residence card

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