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DRIVING

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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DRIVING

Trollstigen: Tips for driving Norway’s most famous road this summer

One of the country's most iconic roads, Trollstigen, has reopened for the summer season. But, before you buckle up and take in the spectacular scenery, there are a few things you should know. 

Trollstigen: Tips for driving Norway's most famous road this summer

Trollstigen, famous for its 11 hairpin turns draped over a breathtaking mountain pass, reopened for summer traffic on June 10th. 

Up to one million tourists, motorists, cyclists and motorcyclists are expected to take to the road in Møre og Romsdal, Western Norway. 

The road’s original reopening was delayed due to a series of avalanches in the valley this winter. The mountain pass is probably the most iconic of Norway’s 18 tourist route roads. So if you plan a trip this summer, you’ll want to know what to expect from the route. 

Where is Trollstigen? 

The road is located on country road 63 in the Rauma and Fjord municipalities in the Møre og Romsdal county of west Norway. The Geiranger to Trollstigen stretch is 104 kilometres long and has an elevation change of 1,000 metres. 

However, the most famous part of the road is the section which ascends, or descends, from Stigøra. This stretch of road is blanketed with 11 hairpin bends and is notable for being carved into the mountain, supported by stone walls and the impressive bridge which crosses the Stigfossen waterfall. 

What to see? 

Looking out of the windows will be the easiest place to start, but you shouldn’t just pass through the road and valley as there are plenty of places to stop. 

For starters, there is the large viewing platform which hovers 200 metres above the most picturesque stretch of road, with different observation points for both bold and more cautious visitors. 

Near the road’s end is Flydalsjuvet, located on the steep mountains that back onto the inner Geirangerfjord. The fjord is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the rest stop at Flydalsjuvet is excellent for taking photos.

 
 
 
 
 
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If you get hungry, you can stop at the Gudbrandsjuvet viewing point. The café there is open from 10am until 5pm every day during the summer season. 

For more inspiration on where to stop and what to see, click here

Expect some congestion too

You may be left disappointed if you dream of having the open road ahead of you and the mountain pass all to yourself. The reason for this is that during the high season, 2,000 vehicles pass the Trollstigveien Plateau. This is the equivalent of a car every 10 seconds. 

Furthermore, the route is becoming a popular cycling destination, and slower vehicles such as mobile homes, which can struggle with the inclines, also use the road. Therefore you can expect slow-moving traffic. 

This may not be the worst thing in the world, as it means you’ll have more time to take in the views. If you prefer quieter roads then it is best taking the route outside of peak hours. 

Weather in the west of Norway can’t always be relied on

Perhaps after seeing a picture of the road, it’ll be easy to imagine yourself pootling down it, or meandering up it with the sun shining, windows opening and clear skies above. 

This may not be the case as the weather in west Norway doesn’t always cooperate, and grey skies and rain are relatively common during the summer. 

Due to the altitude, weather can also affect visibility significantly, so if you plan a trip to see the road especially, you should do so when the forecast is on your side. 

Checking the weather will help give more nervous drivers a heads up to whether they can expect wet or greasy roads, while cyclists and motorbike owners can avoid having their trip ruined by bucketing rain. 

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