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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 July 2007, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
How Europe tackles drink-driving
A policeman testing a man for alcohol levels
European countries have different limits for drink driving
The Association of Chief Police Officers has launched its latest drink-driving campaign, incorporating drugs into its remit for the first time.

Here, BBC correspondents from across Europe explain how our neighbours deal with those getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

PORTUGAL - ALISON ROBERTS IN LISBON

Portugal has long vied for the dubious honour of being the EU state with the worst road safety record.

Campaigns have had little impact, as car ownership has spread along with economic prosperity.

In 2001, in a fit of enthusiasm for road safety, the government lowered the alcohol limit for drivers to 0.2g per litre (g/l) of blood, in line with EU recommendations.

The move triggered outrage in wine-making areas and brought protesting farmers to Lisbon.

EUROPEAN DRINK DRIVE LIMITS (Grams of alcohol per litre of blood)
0.8g = UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta
0.5g = Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany Greece, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain
0.4g = Lithuania
0.2g = Norway, Poland, Sweden
Zero tolerance = Estonia, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary
Source: European Road Safety Observatory

In a country with a tradition of drinking wine with meals, they argued, rigid application of the rule would seriously harm a key industry.

After a backbench rebellion, the government restored the limit to 0.5g/l, where it remains today.

Last year, more than 37,000 drivers were caught drink-driving, up 20% from 2005, in part because testing was stepped up in urban areas.

Worryingly, more than half of those caught were over 1.2g/l - a criminal offence.

This year, roadside tests for drug use by drivers - fines for which range from 500 to 2,500 euros (335-1,680) - were brought in.

Cannabis derivatives, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines are cited, but tests for other substances may also be done.

ITALY - DAVID WILLEY IN ROME

A spate of hit-and-run car accidents killing or seriously injuring pedestrians in Italy's major cities has highlighted the problem of drunken driving in Italy.

Italian media reported 36 road accident deaths in a single weekend this July, many of them alcohol or drug related.

In Rome, the risk for pedestrians is one of the world's highest. More than eight per 1,000 are killed or hurt each year, a risk 10 times greater than in London and 20 times worse than in Paris.

I was invited to appear this month on a breakfast programme on Italian national TV to talk about what Britain has done to reduce drunken driving.

There had been outcry about the lack of response by the public authorities to seriously worsening statistics on road deaths, currently running at 8,000 a year.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, famous for his preference for the bicycle as a means of personal transport, has called for a "major moral and civic shake-up" about the nation's driving habits which he termed "diabolical".

A breathalyser
British police are launching a summer anti-drink driving campaign

The Vatican, criticising what it calls the "collective madness" on Italian roads, issued a document cataloguing "Ten Commandments" for motorists, which boil down to showing respect and compassion for others on the roads, and never failing to stop in case of an accident.

One of the basic causes of the horrifying slaughter on Italian roads is that there are more cars per inhabitant in Italy than in any other country in Europe - 680 per 1,000 population. In Rome, for example, the figure is even higher - 2.4 million cars for 2.5 million inhabitants.

Another is the alleged sloppy attitude of many "vigili urbani", the municipal traffic police in control of road traffic in major cities.

"In 60 years I have never seen an Italian driver fined for not respecting the lines," wrote Marco d'Eramo in the left wing daily Il Manifesto.

"Once, hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing, I was told off by a policeman who said I should be more careful next time!" he reported.

Under the latest regulations in the Italian Highway Code, the limit is 0.5g/l (0.2g/l for bus drivers).

The number of random roadside alcohol tests carried out by police is considerably below that in other European countries.

The police are currently running a campaign aimed at doubling the number of such tests from the current 500,000 to one million per year. This compares with eight million in France.

FRANCE - EMMA JANE KIRBY IN PARIS

France has one of the worst road safety records in Europe.

Despite increased police checks, of the 4,709 road deaths officially recorded here in 2006, government figures show that just over a quarter of those fatal accidents involved drivers who were over the drink-drive limit.

The current laws in France say that any driver found with between 0.5g/l and 0.8g/l can be fined 135 euros (91) and will lose six of the 12 points on their driving licence.

Go above that and a driver risks having their licence taken away, getting a 4,500 euro (3,025) fine and possibly being sent to prison for up to two years.

If a drunk driver causes someone a serious injury in an accident, that driver is likely to face a jail term of up to 10 years. And if drugs are also involved, the penalties become even harsher with longer prison sentences and heftier fines.

Earlier this month, the French National Road Safety Council called for the laws on drink driving to be toughened up in France with more police checks, especially at weekends.

It wants to see the legal limit lowered to just 0.2g/l by 2010 - the limit recommended by the European Commission in Brussels.

The department of transport has rejected that call, insisting the current rules in France are adequate.

POLAND - ADAM EASTON IN WARSAW

Someone dies on Polish roads every 90 minutes.

In 2004, more people died in road accidents per capita in Poland, than in any other member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Poles have a three-times higher chance of being killed in a road accident than Swedes for example.

Drink driving is one of the main safety problems on Polish roads.

In 2005, 14% of all road accidents involved someone who had been drinking. The offenders are overwhelmingly men, particularly those under 31 years of age.

Overall the problem is slowly getting better, but among young men, it's actually getting worse.

In 2005, the number of drunk drivers among 19-31 year olds increased by 11%.

Poland has an almost zero-tolerance policy towards driving under the influence of drink and drugs, with the legal limit at 0.2g/l.

Offenders face up to two years in prison and loss of their driving licence for up to 10 years.

While alcohol levels are regularly checked, drugs tests are still rarely performed.

NORDIC COUNTRIES - BBC CORRESPONDENT JULIAN ISHERWOOD IN COPENHAGEN

In Scandinavia, the past 10 years have seen radical changes in attitudes, laws and enforcement governing drinking and driving.

Despite relatively high alcohol consumption in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, populations have developed an understanding for the enforcement of strict laws governing the use of vehicles after drinking.

"There is now an acceptance in the population that drinking and driving is completely unacceptable and must stop," said Soren Berg of Denmark's Road Safety Council.

But while both Norway and Sweden have tough limits for alcohol-blood levels, both Finland and Denmark have a permitted level of up to 0.5g/l, allowing drivers a single glass of alcoholic beverage before sitting behind the wheel of their cars.

At the same time, individual companies, such as the Arriva transport company, have introduced their own zero tolerance.

Denmark has introduced new laws which, for the first time, make it illegal to drive under the influence of euphoriants and other drugs

Discussions are currently under way in Denmark to reduce permitted levels to 0.2g/l, which would effectively introduce zero tolerance in an effort to reduce the number of traffic deaths to 200 by the year 2012.

Of the 306 traffic deaths on Danish roads in 2006, 70 are said to have been the result of drink driving, with most of these in the young-driver category.

Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are strict. Depending on alcohol concentration, first-time offenders have licences suspended, a fine of monthly income times alcohol concentration and self-paid obligatory alcohol and traffic courses.

Penalties increase as alcohol concentration increases and repeat offenders risk prison sentences.

Regular law enforcement campaigns, with frequent traffic police raids during holiday periods, have also contributed to changes in attitudes towards drinking and driving.

Most recently, Denmark has also introduced new laws which, for the first time, make it illegal to drive under the influence of euphoriants and other drugs.

Until now laws governing euphoriant driving have come under traffic safety legislation, meaning that provided that drivers did not break traffic rules, they were not liable to sanction.




SEE ALSO
Drink-drive limit 'could be cut'
15 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Does anything stop drink-driving?
02 Dec 04 |  Magazine

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