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Global Drunk Driving Blood Alcohol Levels: How does the United States Compare?

In the United States, having a .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) level is legally considered “drunk,” and you can be charged with a DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated, at that level.  Until the federal standard of .08% was implemented in 2000, each state could set its own BAC limit and most states, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and Texas, permitted .10%.  People who were used to the .10% limit might feel that the .08% limit is pretty strict, but a look at other countries’ drunk driving policies shows that the United States is among the more liberal countries regarding BAC limits.

Almost all countries have some sort of BAC limits – ranging from .00% to .08%. The level is usually lower for special classes of drivers – younger drivers have a lower permitted level (this is true in the United States as well – the BAC level is just .02% for drivers under 21 years). Taxi drivers, pilots, and truck drivers often have lower permitted blood alcohol levels. Repeat DUI (Driving Under the Influence) offenders can also have a lower permitted BAC.

The most strict blood alcohol limit is .00% — that is, you will legally be considered a drunk driver if you have ANY alcohol in your system. Some countries frown upon drinking period for religious reasons, whether you are driving or not, so you would expect a zero tolerance policy in those countries. Sure enough, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are among the Muslim countries that permit .00% BAC. But surprisingly, the Czech Republic and Hungary also have a .00% limit. These two countries have no religious issues with alcohol and their citizens are in fact known to be hearty drinkers. Plus, the Czech Republic has excellent breweries and Hungary produces fine wine.  So perhaps the zero tolerance policy is in the spirit of public safety, especially with all of those beer and wine drinkers.

Other countries permit some level of alcohol in your blood, but not as much as the U.S.  Norway allows up to .02%, India is slightly more liberal with .03%, and Costa Rica permits up to .05%. The majority of countries fall around the .05% range and most, if not all, top out at .08%. The United States’ drunk driving standard is one of the most lenient – amazingly enough.

So if you think .08% is unduly strict, just remember that you could be living in one of the many countries with much lower allowable blood alcohol levels. If you lived in Hungary, for example, you would REALLY need to arrange alternate transportation before you go out at night. But wherever you live, take a cab, have a designated driver, walk, or ridge your bike, and you will not have to worry about your BAC level.  If you need assistance with a DUI charge in Louisiana, please contact my criminal law practice in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Thomas Alonzo

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