Jan

15

Drinking Laws and DUI Fatalities

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Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is a common issue faced by many countries all over the world. When looking at international legalities, it seems tougher laws allowing for extensive fines and penalties upon conviction do play a role in reducing the number of DUI related fatalities.

United States

In the United States, a federal law, The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, does not prohibit minors from drinking. Instead, it prohibits the purchase and “public possession” of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. There are some exceptions to this rule.

For instance, drinking is allowed for an established religious purpose when the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian who is at least 21 years old. When prescribed by a doctor or other medical professional, alcohol consumption is allowed.

Minors may drink in private clubs and establishments. Minors may also consume alcohol as part of employment when required by an appropriately licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer.

Many states have legally prohibited youth consumption, but some have exceptions in place for consumption on private property, though the definition of private property may vary.

The legal limit in the United States is .08. The penalties vary from state-to-state, and range from fines to license revocation and community service or jail time. Repeat offenders may have to have an interlock device installed, which requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before the car will start.

Some states have a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, and commercial drivers have a legal limit of .04.

In 2010, the rate of driving fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers per 100,000 population was 3.3, representing a 64% decrease since record keeping began in 1982.

Canada

Canada allows citizens who are 18 (19 in some provinces) to legally consume alcohol. DUI is a serious offense; so serious, in fact, that Canada prohibits some Americans with a DUI conviction from entering their country.

The nationwide legal limit is .08. For novice and young drivers, there is a nationwide zero-tolerance policy. For those under restriction because of administrative sanction, there is a .05 limit.

Canada uses a tiered system to determine the minimum and maximum punishments for DUI based on BAC, with tougher punishments for those who cause bodily harm because of DUI, and even tougher punishments for those who cause death because of DUI. Penalties and laws may vary by province.

First-time offenders who have BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of 5 years in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 10 years in prison.

If the DUI causes bodily harm, first-time offenders with BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of 10 years in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 10 years in prison.

If the DUI causes death, first-time offenders with BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of life in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of life in prison.

Between 1999 and 2009, it’s estimated that 13,174 deaths occurred because of DUI in Canada. In 2009, there were only 1,074 fatalities because of DUI.

Belgium

In 2001, Belgium saw 145 million DUI-related deaths, and through legislative changes was able to reduce the number to 89 million in 2009. Even with the great reduction, it is still a far cry from the national goal of no more than 750 DUI-related deaths per year.

The legal limit in Belgium is .05. Belgium allows citizens who are 16 to consume alcohol, though some beverages cannot be consumed until a person turns 18.

Legislation as of January 2011 provides a tiered penalty structure based on the BAC of the offender.

Offenders found with a BAC between .05 and .08 are banned from driving for three hours, immediately fined 137.50 Euros, and may face an additional fine anywhere between 137.50 and 2,750 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.

Offenders found with a BAC between .08 and .12 are banned from driving for six hours and immediately fined 400 Euros. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.

Offenders found with a BAC between .12 and .15 are banned from driving for six hours and immediately fined 550 Euros. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.

Offenders found with a BAC of .15 or higher are banned from driving for six hours. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Their case is immediately sent to a judge, where offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges.

Police have the right to randomly test any driver, and while the driver cannot refuse the test, they can request to wait 15 minutes before being tested.

Italy

In Italy, people who are 16 years old can legally consume alcohol. In 2002, the Italian government issued a National Road Safety Plan (PNSS) to reduce the number of road fatalities by 40% by 2010, though this was later revised to meet the European target of 50%.

By 2009, Italy had only reduced the number of deaths by 43%, with 4,050 deaths that year. In 2010, the Italian government approved new legislation to reduce the legal BAC down from .05 to .00 for new, young, and professional drivers.

The zero-tolerance policy lead to fines and five penalty points for drivers found with a BAC between .00 and .05; in the case of accidents, the penalty points double. The legislation also requires new and professional drivers who have had their license revoked to wait five years before applying for a new license.

For the rest of the driving population in Italy, the BAC limit remains at .05, but fines have been increased by 33%, as well as the number of penalty points and the minimum jail time required upon conviction. Drivers who are found with levels at 1.5 g/l may now serve a minimum of six months in jail, compared to the previous three months.

In addition, there are provisions for alcohol and drug testing a person must pass in order to receive a driver’s license. Drivers who have three or more serious offenses—offenses carrying five or more points each—within a two-year period are required to retake the theory test to receive their license again.

While laws and penalties vary worldwide, the end goal is clearly the same everywhere: preventing accidental death on the highway. With tougher laws in place, citizens are deterred from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

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