The laws of driving under the influence vary between countries. One difference is the acceptable limit of blood alcohol content before a person is charged with a crime. Thresholds range from the limit of detection (zero-tolerance) to 0.08%. Some countries have no limits or laws on blood alcohol content.[1]


The following is a list of the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limits for drivers in each African country:


North America


Main article: Impaired driving in Canada

The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69 made it illegal to drive with a BAC in excess of 80 mg/100 mL of blood. Refusal of a police officer's demand to provide a breath sample was made an offence at the same time and both began as summary conviction offenses, with a maximum fine of up to $5000 and up to six months imprisonment.[8]

There is a zero-tolerance policy for new drivers undergoing graduated licensing in Ontario, British Columbia,[9] Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta;[10] drivers under the age of 22 in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario,[11] Saskatchewan and in Quebec receive a 30-day suspension and 7-day vehicle seizure.[12] Drivers in Alberta who are in the graduated licensing program, regardless of age, are subject to the same 30-day/7-day suspensions/seizure policy.[13]


United States

Main article: Drunk driving in the United States

A 1937 poster warns U.S. drivers about the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving.

In the United States, the blood alcohol level at which all states make it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle is 0.08, although it is possible to be convicted of impaired driving at a lower blood alcohol level.[15] Some states define two impaired driving offenses.[16]

  1. The first is the traditional offense, variously called driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI),[17] operating under the influence (OUI), or operating while intoxicated/impaired (OWI).
  2. The second and more recent is the so-called illegal per se offense of driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) by volume (mass of alcohol/volume of blood) of 0.08% (previously 0.10%) or higher.

The first offense requires proof of intoxication, although evidence of BAC is admissible as rebuttably presumptive evidence of that intoxication; the second requires only proof of BAC at the time of being in physical control of a motor vehicle. An accused may potentially be convicted of both offenses as a result of a single incident, but may only be punished for one.[18] The differences between state penalties still varies. Wisconsin, for instance, is the only state that continues to treat first offense drunk driving arrests as forfeiture.[19]

Some states also include a lesser charge of driving with a BAC of 0.05%; other states limit this offense to drivers under the age of 21. All states and DC also now have zero tolerance laws: the license of anyone under 21 driving with any detectable alcohol in their bloodstream (BAC limits of 0.01% or 0.02% apply in some states, such as Florida) will be suspended. In 2009, Puerto Rico joined these states, setting a limit of 0.02 for drivers under 21, despite maintaining a legal drinking age of 18.[20]

The blood alcohol limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%.[21] Pilots of aircraft may not fly within eight hours of consuming alcohol, while under the impairing influence of alcohol or any other drug, or while showing a blood alcohol concentration equal to or greater than 0.04 grams per decilitre of blood.[22]

Utah became the first U.S. state to lower the legal limit to .05% BAC by volume on 24 March 2017. The law went into effect on 30 December 2018.[23] The bill's passage, HB155, was controversial in the state. A poll published on 29 July 2017 found 50 percent of Utahns supported the new law, but 47 percent opposed it.

In most states, the timing of the chemical test for suspected drunk driving is important because the law mandates a result within a given time period after the driving stopped, usually two hours.[citation needed]

The aftermath of a drunk driving car crash is simulated as part of an anti-drunk driving campaign for California high school students.


Central America

South America


Central Asia

East Asia

South Asia

Southeast Asia

Western Asia


Map of Europe showing countries' blood alcohol limits as defined in g/dl for the general population. Colour might be inaccurate for Cyprus and Finland in 2019.

Note: Zero usually means below detection limit.

United Kingdom

Novelty "Breathalyser 'pint'" beer glass, about 2 inches tall, dating from around the time of the introduction of breathalysers in the United Kingdom, in 1967.

In British law it is a criminal offence to be drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. The definition of "in charge" depends on such things as being in or near the vehicle, and having access to a means of starting the vehicle's engine and driving it away (i.e., the keys to a vehicle). Someone over the limit in a passenger seat can also be prosecuted if the police believe they had been driving or are able to show that there was a likelihood of them driving.[112]

Further rules in the United Kingdom

In the UK, driving or attempting to drive whilst above the legal limit of 0.08% BAC in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 0.05% BAC in Scotland or unfit through drink carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a minimum twelve months' disqualification. For a second offence committed within ten years of conviction, the minimum ban is three years. Being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in three months' imprisonment plus a fine of up to £2,500 and a driving ban. Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years in prison, a minimum two-year driving ban and a requirement to pass an extended driving test before the offender is able to drive legally again.

It is an offence to refuse to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis. The penalties for refusing are the same as those for actual drunk driving.

The offence of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol is one to which there is no defence, as such (although defences such as duress or automatism, which are not specific to the offence of driving with excess alcohol, may apply in certain rare circumstances). However, it may be possible to argue that special reasons exist which are such that the offender should not be disqualified from driving despite having committed the offence. Special reasons are notoriously difficult to establish, and the burden of proof is always upon the accused to establish them. Such reasons may include:

Magistrates' sentencing guidelines

In England and Wales, when drink driving offenders appear before a magistrates' court, the magistrates have guidelines they refer to before they decide on a suitable sentence to give the offender. These guidelines are issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council[113] and cover offences for which sentence is frequently imposed in a magistrates' court when dealing with adult offenders.

Offences can either be tried summarily, which means they can only be heard in the magistrates' court, or they can be an "either way" offence which means magistrates may find their sentencing powers are insufficient and indict the case to a higher Crown Court. The majority of drunk driving offences are summary-only offences which can only be tried in a magistrates' court. The most serious offences, such as a collision with death or injury, must be indicted to Crown Court. The maximum sentence magistrates can usually impose for "being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink" is a £2,500 fine, a three-month prison sentence or a driving ban. The maximum sentence magistrates can usually impose for "driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink" is six months' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or a driving ban for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in 10 years).[114] In theory, the fine is means-tested and based on disposable income.[115]

As with England and Wales, road traffic law in Scotland is in the main framed within the Road Traffic Act 1988 as amended. Prosecution and disposal of drink-drive offences is broadly similar to England and Wales with less serious cases prosecuted on complaint through the sheriff summary courts. Cases involving aggravations, life-changing or fatal injuries are prosecuted on indictment via the sheriff solemn or high court. As with most UK-wide legislation, the penalties and sentencing guidelines for drink driving in Scotland mirror those in effect in England and Wales.



Road laws are state or territory based, but all states and territories have set similar rules. In particular, alcohol must never exceed 0.05g of alcohol in every 100ml of blood; limits for certain categories of drivers are lower, differing in different states.

Australian laws allow police officers to stop any driver and perform a random breath test without reason.[citation needed] Roadblocks can be set up just about anywhere (for example, leading out of town centres on Friday and Saturday nights and after football matches or other major events), where every single driver is breath-tested.

This differs from UK and US laws where police generally need a reason to suspect that the driver is intoxicated before requesting a breath or sobriety test. It is an offence in Australia to refuse to provide a sample of breath when required to, with severe penalties, including prison.[117]

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



There are also other restrictions for drivers in Victoria:

Western Australia

Driving with 0.15% BAC by mass and above (legally defined as Drunk Driving) is a distinct offence from having over 0.08% but under 0.15% BAC, and is subject to heavier penalties. Persistent offenders may be barred from driving for terms up to and including life, and may be imprisoned.

The law allows a police officer to require any driver to perform a random saliva test for methamphetamine, cannabis or MDMA, all of which are subject to a zero limit.

New Zealand

New Zealand operates a program called Compulsory Breath Testing, which allows police to stop motorists at any time without having any reason to do so. CBT is usually carried out at roadside checkpoints but mobile patrol cars can also randomly stop motorists to administer a test. The police also carry out roadside drug tests upon motorists they suspect have used drugs.[121]

The system in New Zealand is age-based.[122] The limits are:

The penalties for exceeding the limits are:

Drivers convicted of excess breath alcohol may be required to gain a zero-limit license.[citation needed]

Note that penalties apply to the lowest reading taken across both breath and blood tests. For example, if a driver twenty years or over has a breath test result of 426 μg/L but a subsequent blood test returns 0.077% BAC, then the driver is not charged with any drink driving offense despite the breath reading being over the breath alcohol limit. The penalty for injuring or killing someone when under the influences is the same as dangerous driving (up to ten years' imprisonment, up to NZ$20,000 or both, and loss of license for one year or more).[124]

Other countries in Oceania

See also


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Government agencies