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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Russia drivers' licence to drink
Russian vodka
Russians have a reputation for hard drinking
Russians will be allowed one for the road - or as they say in Moscow, one for the saddle - under new moves to relax drink-driving limits.

But the step is being criticised as a step in the wrong direction for a country with a huge drink problem.

Until now drivers have been forbidden from touching a drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

Now they will be allowed one beer, under a decree issued by the Health Ministry.

The Russian Government claims this will bring the country into line with other European countries where small amounts of alcohol are allowed.

But some critics believe it will be hard to get drivers to limit their intake to a single beer - and that opportunities for bribe-taking by Russia's underpaid police will widen.

As everyone knows, Russians will accept no limits - it is a big mistake, and we cannot allow it
Komsomolskaya Pravda
According to one paper, allowing drivers a drink is fine in certain other countries "with a civilised people and a civilised police", but not in Russia.

"This is clearly not possible because, as everyone knows, Russians will accept no limits. It is a big mistake, and we cannot allow it," said Komsomolskaya Pravda.

But another paper, the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta, concluded the move aimed to set out criteria for defining drunkenness at the wheel and thus narrow opportunities for police corruption.

'Rampant'

The decree signed by Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko sets the blood alcohol limit at 50 milligrams per millilitre, superseding regulations going back to the fight against alcoholism under former President Mikhail Gorbachev.

BBC Russian Affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel says the ministry used medical evidence to justify its decision, arguing that the level of alcohol in the blood from one bottle of beer declines steadily and that within an hour it has effectively gone.

A senior Moscow area police officer, Vladimir Timoshin, said drink-driving was a factor in almost 10% of road accidents there last year.

"There are regions in Russia where drink-driving is simply rampant," he said.


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