The news that France has postponed indefinitely the law which says all drivers must have a breathalyser kit in the
car has uncovered a worrying lack of knowledge of European road rules from British travellers, many of whom were unaware of the law anyway.
This latest twist in international driving laws comes not long after the confusion over Florida’s insistence on drivers having and International Driving Permit, a law that was quickly suspended after it was found few were aware of it.
Whilst the change of heart by the French was prompted by the difficulties of enforcing the law, part of which due to ignorance of it by many foreign drivers, it’s highlighted the general or wilful ignorance of many travellers who don’t check up on laws or regulations before travel. Whilst many hope to ‘get away with’ not following the laws, ignorance is no defence and in many countries, quite severe penalties face those who don’t comply.
Drink driving is one of the laws most commonly flouted by holidaymakers who go out for meals and enjoy a couple of beers or a bottle of wine, often ignorant of the legal limits on blood alcohol or the penalties they face if caught or involved in an accident.
In the majority of European countries, one pint of beer can put a man of average build around the blood alcohol limit of 0.05%, depending on its strength and for women or people who are less well built the beer could well put you over the limit. The same applies to two small glasses of wine or two small measures of spirits.
However, a number of European countries have lower limits where a single small glass of wine or half a pint of beer can put you over and in these countries, it’s almost certainly best not to drink at all. These include the Baltic States and Sweden
. Others are even more extreme and allow no alcohol when driving so avoid it in countries which include the Czech Republic
whilst others reduce the alcohol levels depending on the experience of the driver including Slovenia
and the Netherlands
Penalties can be severe with Sweden imposing a six month jail sentence for breaking the law and in Denmark; a variable length of prison sentence can apply.
UK drivers, whilst thinking they are often harshly treated under drink driving laws have some of the most lenient in Europe, another factor that leads to problems when driving abroad.
The sensible advice for all though is to have an appointed driver who will stick to soft drinks or take a taxi or walk!