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DUI Around the World: Standards, Penalties and Prevention

If you get into a car in South Africa, you might be taking your life into your own hands. According to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization (as reported in Forbes), South Africa has the most dangerous roads in the world, with 25.1 accident fatalities per 100,000 people. Furthermore, if someone dies in a vehicle accident in South Africa, there’s a 58 percent chance it was caused by someone driving under the

These statistics are quite ironic considering South Africa has some of the steepest penalties for DUI offenses of anywhere else in the world. A DUI conviction can cost up to $10,000 in fines or 10 years of jail time, according to LifeSafer, and as recently as April, authorities were considering implementing a mandatory two-year prison sentence without bail for any DUI conviction. One possible reason for this dichotomy may be that the laws aren’t consistently enforced. According to a report by Voice of America, only 6 percent of DUI arrests in South Africa result in a conviction, thanks to a combination of backlogs, inefficient processing, bribery and corruption.

South Africa’s driving woes illustrate that America isn’t the only nation where DUI is an issue—although the WHO places the United States at Number 3 on its list of worst nations for DUI fatalities, only two behind South Africa a 31 percent fatality rate. The UK falls in the middle at 16 percent, while the country with the lowest DUI fatality rate (again, ironically), is China—the world’s most populous nation.

The NHTSA has published a report providing comparative information about DWI laws in other countries. Drawing from this report, let’s take a closer look at DUI around the world, and how different nations choose to address the question.

Blood Alcohol Content

Perhaps not surprisingly, the United States is one of the most generous nations when it comes to determining how much is too much. Although the “legal limit” of blood alcohol content (BAC) varies somewhat from state to state, the current national limit is 0.08 (0.04 for commercial vehicle operators). Many states have lowered the standard to 0.05, and some also have a no-tolerance policy of 0.00 for younger drivers.

A number of other nations share our relatively high 0.08 BAC benchmark, including the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Canada and Switzerland, among others. However, other nations have opted to tighten these standards. Here’s a quick synopsis (not a comprehensive list).

Countries with a BAC standard of 0.05 include:

• Australia
• France
• Belgium
• Denmark
• Germany
• Norway
• Greece
• South Korea
• Portugal

Countries with a BAC limit of 0.02 include:

• Russia
• China

A handful of countries have a no-tolerance BAC policy. In Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Romania or the Czech Republic, for example, you can be arrested for driving with any measurable alcohol content in your blood.

Penalties for First Offenders

Here in the U.S., the penalties for a first DUI conviction vary widely from state to state, but all states draw from the same basic bag, implementing punishments that may involve any/all of the following, depending on the severity of the offense and if anyone was hurt:

• Fines
• Jail time
• License penalties
• Vehicle impoundment
• Community service programs

In many other countries, DUI penalties are weighed against the severity of the offense (in many cases, the actual BAC level), but as a general trend, penalties lean more severe than in the United States, all the way up to permanent revocation of a license on the first offense. (In most states, licenses aren’t suspended/revoked until the 3rd DUI.) Here’s a sampling of first-offense DUI penalties in other countries:

• Denmark—Ranging from fines for minimum BAC (0.05) to license suspension for higher BAC, up to 2.5 years. For BAC levels over 2.0, the defendant may also face jail time.
• Austria—Incremental fines based on BAC levels; 4-week suspension for BAC over 0.08; imprisonment if people are injured.
• Germany—Minor charges and penalties for lower BAC levels; a BAC of 0.11 or higher constitutes a criminal offense including a mandatory license suspension and possible prison time up to 5 years.
• Norway—Possible revocation of license for a first offense.
• Australia—Specific penalties vary by state, but count on a license suspension anywhere in Australia for the first DUI offense.
• Spain—Fines and license suspension for a minimum of 3 months.
• Belgium—Fines, with a possibility of immediate forfeiture of license and prison up to 6 months.

Prevention Methods for DUI

The ways different countries attempt to reduce the numbers of DUI offenses are as varied as the countries themselves, and because true prevention usually depends on several factors, results vary widely. For example, as in the case of South Africa, strict rules do little to deter DUI without proper lack of enforcement. As a rule of thumb, nations with lower BAC thresholds seem to have fewer DUI fatalities (for example, China has the lowest fatality rate at 4 percent, thanks in part to a 0.02 BAC limit).

However, most nations understand that laws and penalties alone don’t reduce the number of DUI incidents. A few preventative measures are now being tried by numerous countries, including here in the U.S. Let’s look at just two examples here:

• Ignition Interlocks—This technology integrates a breathalyzer into the vehicle so the ignition won’t turn if the driver’s BAC is above the threshold. Studies show a consistent decline in DUI offenses for states that use these devices. They’re now in use in all 50 states, and 23 states now require them for DUI offenders. Ignition interlocks are also gaining popularity in Australia, Canada, Belgium, Austria, The Netherlands and New Zealand.
• Random Breath Testing (RBT)—One of the most popular deterrents worldwide, RBT essentially allows law enforcement to test drivers at random for alcohol consumption, even without probable cause. (Sobriety checkpoints are a common example.) RBT is implemented in dozens of nations across the globe, including here in the U.S.

As BAC standards continue to tighten and penalties increase, it’s more critical than ever to have proper legal representation if you are accused of DUI. Our team is standing by to help. Give us a call to learn more.



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