Blood alcohol limits in Europe: safe to drive after that dinner?

By John Walton, August 22 2011
Blood alcohol limits in Europe: safe to drive after that dinner?

Australian travellers to Europe are sometimes confused by the different drink driving limits across European countries. With seven different limits across European Union (EU) countries, it's important to be aware of the national laws when you're next travelling.

Business travellers, no strangers to boozy lunches and celebratory dinners, are frequent border-crossers, so should be aware of where two drinks is their cut-off point or where they might be able to stretch the legal limit to three.

Moët Hennessy, the French owner of many wine and spirit producers, provides a useful information sheet for travellers, which we've quoted here.

The seven different blood alcohol level limits are outlined in grams per litre of blood:

In order of the nations with the most generous limit down to the four countries that ban any blood alcohol whatsoever, that's:

  • 0.8 g/l: Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the United Kingdom
  • 0.5 g/l: European Union countries not otherwise mentioned -- and also the Australian limit.
  • 0.49 g/l: Latvia
  • 0.4 g/l: Lithuania
  • 0.22 g/l: Cyprus
  • 0.2 g/l: Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Finland
  • 0 g/l: Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia

The amount of blood alcohol will vary depending on your gender, size, health, drinking speed, tiredness, medication and numerous other factors, including whether you're drinking with a meal. Drinking on a plane, as frequent flyers will know, exacerbates the effects of alcohol as well.

Moët Hennessy suggests that "two glasses of alcohol for a woman weighing 60 kilos will give a blood level of 0.50 grams instead of 0.70 grams" if she consumes alcohol during a meal.

And how big are those "standard drink" glasses? Pretty small. Here's the French standard sizing:

A half-litre of beer -- which is pretty much the standard European measure -- is two standard drinks. (A pint is 568 ml, in case you're in Britain, Ireland, or other countries where imperial measures are still used.) A 750ml bottle of wine shared equally between three people is 2.5 standard drinks each.

So do the maths when you're imbibing, keep yourself, your passengers and other road users safe -- and save yourself an awful lot of potential hassle with the local authorities too. 

Obviously, you should check that the information provided by Moët Hennessy is up to date and still legally correct before relying on it. Contact law enforcement agencies or government bodies for official information.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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