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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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TRAVEL NEWS

Strikes and queues: How airline passengers in Europe face summer travel chaos

Staff shortages, IT glitches, long queues and strike action - there have been chaotic scenes at airports around Europe already. With the summer holidays ahead here's the forecast for summer travel in the 9 countries covered by The Local.

Strikes and queues: How airline passengers in Europe face summer travel chaos

France

In common with many other European countries France is facing staff shortages this summer and the aviation sector is particularly affected.

ANALYSIS Why France is facing a severe worker shortage this summer

Long queues have already been reported at Paris airports, especially for long-haul flights, and passengers are advised to check carefully the airline’s recommendations for arrival times. Outside Paris fewer problems have been reported, but unions have warned travellers to expect delays over the summer as passenger volumes increase.

Paris airports were hit by strike action on Thursday and further strikes have been called for July unless the workers’ demands – for a €300 salary increase to cope with the rising cost of living – are met.

Outside of Paris no strikes are scheduled – but it’s hardly unknown for French airport and airline unions to call strikes once the summer holidays begin. You can find the latest on our travel section HERE.

Away from air travel the picture is less gloomy, with no specific problems reported on French railways.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from France by train

If you’re travelling from the UK there are reports of delays at British airports, the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras and at ferry ports, but the services themselves are mostly running as normal. Remember that since Brexit there are extra restrictions on travelling to France from the UK

Spain

In April 2022, Spain managed to recover 85 percent of the international tourists it received during the same month in 2019, as the country hopes to slowly edge towards the record 83.7 million holidaymakers it received in the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But just like is happening across much of Europe, it may be a case of too much too soon for Spain’s travel machine to cope. 

Flagship carrier Iberia has reported that an estimated 15,000 passengers have missed their flight connections at Madrid’s Barajas airport since March as a result of huge queues at passport control, a situation that’s being replicated across other Spanish airports due to a combination of reduced staff, increased travel and UK holidaymakers – now non-EU citizens – not being able to use e-gates.

Spain’s Interior Ministry has reacted by announcing it will deploy an extra 500 border guards at the country’s 12 busiest airports as well as allowing British holidaymakers to use e-gates as neighbour Portugal has done.

READ MORE: How Spain is tackling airport chaos

Then there’s the not-so-small matter of hundreds of flight cancellations by Easyjet, Lufthansa, Eurowings, TUI and more airlines due to a lack of staff, IT glitches and other reasons, with many of these flights being to Spain. 

Ryanair’s Spain cabin crew have also now confirmed their strike in late June and July, after talks between Spanish unions and the low-cost airline broke down. 

On Tuesday June 21st, Easyjet cabin crew announced they will also be going on strike on July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 15th, 16th, 17th, 29th, 30th and 31st to protest against their low wages.

Italy

Italy appears to have escaped the worst of the disruption seen elsewhere in Europe, with no reports so far of chaotic scenes or long lines at Italian airports. But that’s not to say travel to or from the country is guaranteed to be trouble-free this summer.

Flight delays and cancellations are expected on Saturday June 25th, as pilots and crew from Ryanair, Malta Air and CrewLink have announced a nationwide 24-hour walkout in Italy over wages and working conditions.

Italian trade unions representing airline workers warned earlier this month that there may be “a long series of staged actions which will run through the entire summer” after dozens of flights were delayed or cancelled on June 8th amid protests by cabin crew and pilots working for low-cost airlines.

Transport strikes of all types are a common occurrence in Italy throughout the summer months, with rail services and local public transit most recently disrupted last Friday.

Airports in Italy however don’t seem to have been hit by the severe staffing shortages seen in some countries, likely due to the country’s ban on layoffs amid the pandemic and financial incentives offered to companies for keeping staff on reduced hours instead of firing them.

It remains to be seen whether things will continue to run as smoothly at airports once Italy’s long summer holidays begin on June 20th, with many Italian families planning to travel abroad this summer for the first time since before the pandemic.

Germany

Germany is also struggling with the increasing demand for travel coupled with staff shortages.

Transport Minister Volker Wissing warned recently that the country is facing major disruption to air travel and called for a nationwide recruitment drive. But he better get a move on. Passengers are already reporting long waits at airports while queuing at security, and Germany’s biggest airline Lufthansa said it was cancelling 900 services around Germany and Europe this July. Despite the reduced timetable, Lufthansa said there could still be problems. 

And passengers will also have to watch out for the possibility of strikes. On Friday, for instance, Germany’s Verdi Union called on Easyjet cabin crew staff in the Berlin-Brandenburg area to walk out from 5am-10am in a wages dispute, resulting in disruption. 

Regional train travel in Germany could also be tricky in popular areas. The €9 monthly ticket for public transport means that some regional train services have been overcrowded. During the recent holiday weekend, train staff described chaotic scenes, with people not being allowed to board trains. 

Sweden

The big logjam in Sweden is at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, where staffing issues have led to long queues and missed flights since mid-May, particularly on weekends. 

On Saturday, the crowding and queuing at Arlanda’s outbound Terminal 5 was so severe that travellers had to be diverted to Terminals 2 and 4, with the road to Terminal 5 closed, and the Arlanda Express rail link ceasing stopping there. The airport’s operator Swedavia is now advising passengers not to come too far in advance of their flights, and police are advising passengers not to bring their cars. 

The airline has said it expects the delays to continue throughout the summer, but police expect the crowding to decrease this week with fewer queues than over the weekend. 

Sweden’s other main airport, at Landvetter in Gothenburg, is not suffering the same staffing issues, according to the Göteborgs-Posten newspaper, as the number of passengers seeking to fly from the airport has not spiked to the same extent. 

Scandinavia’s SAS airline is also likely to see cancellations in June after 1,000 pilots said they would go on strike. The strikes, announced by pilots unions in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, will begin on June 23rd if the company fails to reach a deal with unions. 

Austria

So far, Austria has got through a wave of chaos sweeping Europe relatively unscathed. However, there have been a few reports of delays and cancellations.

“The passengers already have to wait an hour at check-in, then another hour at the security. I have already been insulted by aggressive passengers”, an anonymous employee at the Vienna International Airport told Austrian media.

Representatives from the Vienna Airport operator have denied the reports. Still data shows that the recipe for trouble is already in place in the alpine country, with increasing numbers of travellers.

READ ALSO: Will Austria see travel chaos in airports this summer?

The situation is far from dire, though, and most jobs were saved through the government scheme known as Kurzarbeit. Companies could get subsidies as long as they kept staff and refrained from firing. 

The spokesperson for the Vienna International Airport has told Austrian media that they currently have about 80 percent of personnel from before the pandemic – while passenger levels are at about 65 to 70 percent of those from 2019.

It remains to be seen if that will be enough to avoid chaos just as people go on their summer vacations.

Switzerland

With the exception of “high-volume” travel peaks like Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, Swiss airports have not been overly impacted by overcrowding.

At Geneva airport, the situation is “relatively under control”, according to Sandy Bouchat, the airport’s spokesperson.

However, with the summer holidays around the corner, “we are all the more vigilant, as we expect a sharp increase in traffic”, she added.

In Zurich, the situation is relatively calm as well, though, like Geneva, it is preparing to handle more passengers in the coming weeks.

The airport has a useful site where passengers can see the situation at check-in counters on a given day.

Basel’s EuroAirport tends to be busy for two reasons: it has a number of low-budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair, and it also lies on the borders of Switzerland, France and Germany, accounting for the influx of passengers from all three countries.

This map shows the real-time road traffic information to and from the airport, which is helpful in estimating the expected wait times.

Also, while it is difficult to know right now whether this move will create overcrowding at airports, the national airline SWISS has cancelled or reduced a number of its flights from both Zurich and Geneva, and outsourced some routes to codeshare carriers.  

SWISS is also impacted by personnel shortage as it is among few airlines that emains firm in requiring all its pilots and flight attendants be immunised against Covid: in all, around 150 unvaccinated flight crews are not permitted to fly; nor enough fit-to-fly cabin crews may lead to more cancellations.

READ MORE: Which flights have SWISS airlines cut ahead of summer season?

Denmark

Long delays were reported at Copenhagen Airport last month, with the airport warning passengers it expected “to be very busy” during the late spring public holidays. These long weekends have now passed and the airport earlier said it expected to be fully staffed by June.

Staff shortages at security checks, caused by a lengthy rehiring process following the Covid-19 crisis, were blamed for crowds and long queues at Copenhagen Airport during the spring. 

In a May 19th statement on its website, Copenhagen Airport advised passengers travelling outside of the spring public holidays to arrive two hours prior to departure for European travel, and three hours before departure for travel to destinations outside of Europe.

Other Danish airports have been less severely affected. The smaller Aalborg Airport, for example, said this week that it did not expect excessive queueing this summer because it did not let any staff go last winter when passenger numbers were down.

Flagship Scandinavian airline SAS is meanwhile mired in a debt crisis that has the potential to affect a significant number of passengers in coming weeks and months. The airline in February announced a major cost cutting plan and has since reported quarterly losses of 1.5 billion Swedish kronor.

Although the Danish government has said it is prepared to back the company in the right circumstances by increasing its share, Sweden has made the reverse decision. On top of this, a major pilots’ strike is looking increasing likely after talks between SAS and pilots’ trade unions broke down.

Norway

So far, Norway’s airports have remained relatively free of queues and disruption. Avinor, the state-owned company operating the country’s airports, remains confident that disruption shouldn’t be too severe this summer

“It’s a staffing issue (airport delays), and here in Norway, we are much better equipped than other European countries, thanks to measures taken during the pandemic,” Øystein Løwer, press officer of Avinor, told VG. 

“During the pandemic, we had a clear crisis package from the state, which made it possible to retain workers for long periods. This, in turn, meant that employees at the airports (in Norway) kept their jobs and were able to return to work when Norway reopened,” the press officer explained. 

However, while airports are equipped to deal with queues, travellers are still facing disruption thanks to more than 50 scheduled departures out of Norwegian airports and their return flights being cancelled due to a aircraft technician strike, which could escalate further if wage demands are not met.

Additionally, around 1,000 pilots with Scandinavian airline SAS could go on strike later this month after trade unions issued a strike notice. Pilots in Norway, Denmark and Sweden have all said they would strike. Around 2,000 bookings with airline Flyr could also be disrupted by the delayed delivery of a Boeing aircraft to its fleet.

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