DWI Laws Around the World

by Rex Shafer on October 3, 2008

North America

According to the NHTSA, in the US in 2007 there were 12,998 people killed in alcohol-related crashes.  Given that there were 41,059 total traffic fatalities during the same year, you can see that drunk driving is a serious problem.  It is true that the report shows this is an almost 4% decrease over the previous year.  While this is good news, we can surely do better. The current “legal limit” for a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) in North America (this includes Canada and Mexico, in case you’re curious) is 0.08%.  This does not mean that a BAC level lower than that gets you off the hook.  The facts state that you can still be charged with a DUI/DWI with a BAC level below 0.08%.  The rules get tougher for commercial drivers (semi-trucks and the like) as they get charged for hitting 0.04%.  The crackdown is even more severe if the drinker is under the age of 21.  The US practices a “zero tolerance” law meaning that anyone under the age of 21 driving with a BAC of  0.01% (0.02% in some states) or more will be arrested.  This sounds like a good plan to keep the youth of the country safe, but many feel that zero tolerance is ineffective.  The safest rule, regardless of age?  To quote an ad campaign from the past, “If you drink, don’t drive.  If you drive, don’t drink.”  There needs to be probable cause for law enforcement to stop a vehicle for the purpose of testing for alcohol consumption.  These tests include a breathalyzer, counting or saying ABC’s backwards, walking a straight line or standing on one leg, etc.  Even with probable cause, in the US the driver must submit to the testing before an officer may proceed.  Even though it is an option to take the tests, the penalties of not taking them can be considerably worse.

South America

There are BAC laws in effect for South America, though they vary widely across the country.  In Cuba and Panama, the limit is a whopping 0% – no alcohol in the system at all.  It varies across the country up to a familiar 0.08% in some countries such as Uruguay and Suriname.  I like the little addition in Costa Rica (0.049%) where they remove the license plates from the drunk driver’s vehicle.  Beyond these facts, and a few related articles on Brazil, little research has been done on the DUI/DWI laws of South America.  The few things found indicate they follow similar procedures as North America, but nothing specific could be found.  As new results are released, this page will be updated – so keep checking back!


If any of our readers watch a cable show called “No Reservations” on The Travel Channel, then you may already know that Europe in general has more relaxed ideas towards drinking.  Drinking is typically more common an occurrence across Europe and is seen as more acceptable, even among youth, when done in social settings and in moderation.  As such, European drivers tend to be more responsible when it comes to drunk driving.  Quite simply, they try not to do it.  There’s a wide range of BAC limits across Europe, as could be anticipated.  We see all levels from zero in Romania up to 0.08% in Italy and Ireland (where it was recently lowered to 0.08%).  There are a few “higher limits” for the more inebriated drivers.  If you run 0.10% in Sweden you can get up to two years in prison.  Blowing 0.12% in Finland nets you an aggravated DUI charge.  As one might assume, given that these laws are more strict and the general thought in Europe is that people are going to get caught, occurrences of DUI/DWI are relatively low.


Asia has generally stricter rules regarding alcohol consumption in general and especially with regards to drinking and driving.  The only 0.08% limits were found in Malaysia and Singapore.  The others were mainly 0.05% and below.  Pakistan goes one step further and has made drinking alcohol illegal in any situation.  Punishment for drunk driving was similar across the continent in that the result in most circumstances was jail time.  To sum it up, while drinking is fairly common in most parts of Asia, drinking and driving is just not acceptable.


There simply isn’t much in the way of information on DUI laws and the like in Africa.  There are a few tips and suggestions on driving in Africa, though nothing regarding specific laws.  There is another organization of SADD found there, but it is known as South Africans Against Drunk Driving.  South Africa, you may know, is predominantly Caucasian and there is a long history of apartheid in South Africa.  Given the seriousness of issues facing daily life of the average African, perhaps there are more important things to worry about than driving.


Australia is fairly strict on the drunk driving situation.  Breathalyzer tests are common as they use RBT (Random Breath Tests) and Sobriety Checkpoints throughout the country.  The BAC limits for drivers are pretty much the same across the country.  There is zero tolerance for any young (usually under 25) drivers or drivers of commercial vehicles – the Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Western Australia give a limit of 0.02%.  For any other drivers, there is a country-wide limit of 0.05%.  South Australia tacks on a zero tolerance for methamphetamine, Cannabis, or MDMA (ecstasy).  Victoria adds that plus a list of other provisions:

  • Limits apply within 3 hours of driving – that is, Police can require a person to submit to an alcohol or drugs test within 3 hours of driving and it is an offence to fail that test (see Road Safety Act 1986, ss. 49, 53 and 55E).
  • Licences cancelled for certain serious drink-driving offences may only be reissued after obtaining a court order. This is the case for repeat offenders, and first offenders above 0.15% . In such cases, the re-licensed driver is subject to a zero limit for 3 years following re-licensing, or for as long as the person is required to use an alcohol interlock.
  • Alcohol interlocks must be imposed whenever a repeat drink-driver is re-licensed.
  • A court also has discretion to impose an alcohol interlock when re-licensing a first offender in certain serious cases, generally when the offence involves a BAC of 0.15% or higher.
  • If a doctor sees any patient who is aged 15 years or over as a result of a motor vehicle accident, the patient must allow the doctor to take a blood sample for testing for alcohol and drug content in a way that preserves the chain of evidence. If this process is skipped the doctor may not be able to discover the alcohol blood level. The results can be used as evidence in subsequent court proceedings.
  • The law allows a police officer to require any driver (or any person who has driven a vehicle within the last three hours) to perform a random saliva test for methamphetamine, Cannabis or MDMA, all of which are subject to a zero limit (see Road Safety Act 1986: ss. 49, 55E & 55D)

Wow!  Don’t tempt the law by drinking and driving in Australia.  If you plan to travel in Victoria – get a bicycle.


As the seventh continent, it needed to be mentioned.  Unfortunately, the penguins just aren’t talking and the polar bears haven’t returned our calls.

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