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DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY

It’s summer travel season and maybe you are planning a trip to another country. Don’t let your R&R be ruined by a driving under the influence arrest. You may not be aware of this but most countries have harsher DUI laws than those in the United States. Now, how strictly those laws are enforced may be another matter but here’s the low down:

In Canada, the BAC threshold runs from 0.05% to 0.08% depending on the province. Same in Mexico, where the BAC limit is determined by state and can run between 0.04% and 0.08%, but the national limit is 0.08% for those states that do not impose their own law.

Going to Europe? You might want to lay off the alcohol altogether if you are driving. In Scandinavia, for example, you can be arrested for a DUI with just a 0.02% BAC (Norway and Sweden). Denmark is slightly more lenient with a 0.05% BAC threshold. Elsewhere in Europe, the BAC reading at which you can be arrested for drunken driving is generally 0.05% although many European countries have a lower threshold if you are involved in an accident. For example, in Germany you can be arrested for drunken driving if you are involved in an accident (regardless of fault) with a BAC of 0.03%. Only Malta and the U.K. have a 0.08% BAC threshold; the rest of the countries run between 0.00% and 0.05%. (Yes, 0.00%: in the former Eastern bloc countries of Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia you can be arrested for drunken driving with any amount of alcohol in your system.)

Australia and New Zealand: Driving with a 0.05% or greater BAC will result in your arrest.

Planning a trip to South America? The laws are stricter than California’s there too. In fact, Colombia considers a 0.02% BAC to be driving under the influence, while most other South American countries put the limit at 0.03% to 0.05%. By the way, Central America is just as tough with most countries having a 0.05% limit and some Central American countries consider 0.08% BAC a very serious offense. The Caribbean countries have limits of 0.03% to 0.08% depending on the country.

Now if you are going to Asia, you might want to think twice before attempting to drive in some Asian countries, the traffic is wild! But if you are driving in Asia, be aware that the BAC limit is 0.00% in some Muslim Asian countries. Most other Asian countries have BAC limits that are stricter than California’s—generally between 0.01% and 0.05%. Only Laos, Malaysia, and Singapore have a 0.08% BAC threshold.

Africa? Again, tougher laws. A few African countries match California’s 0.08% BAC, but most have a lower BAC threshold of between 0.02% and 0.06% (although a couple of African countries have a 0.15% threshold).

What happens if you do get arrested for driving under the influence in another country? Every country is going to handle the arrest of a foreign visitor differently but you can be sure that your foreign visitor status will not get you off the hook. If you are unfortunate enough to be arrested for driving under the influence in a country with strict laws, you could find yourself cooling your heels in a foreign jail – not a fun vacation! Contact the State Department if that happens. According to the U.S. State Department, one of their highest priorities is to provide assistance to U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad. The State Department will provide a list of attorneys who speak English and provide other assistance such as contacting relatives if requested, but the US State Department cannot get you out of jail.

In most cases though, you will probably find yourself subject to fines and penalties with the information regarding the record of your DUI arrest being transferred to U.S. authorities and further consequences here. You will almost definitely lose the right to drive in that country and you may even find the authorities confiscating your U.S. driver’s license if that is the license you are driving on (many countries will allow you to drive for a set period of time on your U.S. license).

Vacations are a time when we let our guard down, but don’t ruin it by drinking and driving!

If you would like to know more about the laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William M. Weinberg at his Irvine, California office at 949-474-8008.

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