Driving under the influence

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [6]


Driving under the influence of alcohol ('driving while intoxicated, drunk driving, drinking and driving, drink-driving), is the act of operating a motor vehicle (and even a bicycle, boat or horse in some jurisdictions) after having consumed alcohol, or other drugs, to the degree that mental and motor skills are impaired. It is a crime in most countries around the world.

Anti-drunk-driving advertising campaigns have aimed to raise awareness of the legal situation and the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Drunk-driving is responsible for a large number of deaths, injuries, damage and accidents every year. In most international jurisdictions, anyone who is convicted of injuring or killing someone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be heavily fined, as in France,[7] in addition to being given a lengthy prison sentence.

The specific criminal offense may be called, depending on the jurisdiction, driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving while impaired (also DWI), operating while intoxicated (OWI), operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OMVI), driving under the influence [of alcohol or other drugs] (DUI), driving under the combined influence of alcohol and/or other drugs, driving under the influence per se or drunk in charge [of a vehicle]. Such laws may also apply to boating (as in Canada[8]), piloting aircraft, and even bicycling in some states such as California.

Historically, guilt was established by observed driving symptoms, such as weaving; administering field sobriety tests, such as a walking a straight line heel-to-toe or standing on one leg for 30 seconds; and the arresting officer's subjective opinion of impairment. Starting with the introduction in Norway in 1936 of the world’s first per se law which made it an offense to drive with more than a specified amount of alcohol in the body, objective chemical tests have gradually supplemented the earlier purely judgmental ones. Limits for chemical tests are specific for blood alcohol concentration or concentration of alcohol in breath.

With the advent of a scientific test for blood alcohol content (BAC), enforcement regimes moved to pinning culpability for the offense to strict liability based on driving while having more than a prescribed amount of blood alcohol, although this does not preclude the simutaneous existance of the older subjective tests. BAC is most conveniently measured as a simple percent of alcohol in the blood by weight. It does not depend on any units of measurement. In Europe it is usually expressed as milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. However, 100 milliliters of blood weighs essentially the same as 100 milliliters of water, which weighs precisely 100 grams. Thus, for all practical purposes, this is the same as the simple dimensionless BAC measured as a percent. Since 2002 it has been illegal in all 50 US states to drive with a BAC that is 0.08% or higher.

The validity of the testing equipment/methods and mathematical relationships for the measurement of breath and blood alcohol have been criticized. (Taylor 2007)

Driving while consuming alcohol may be illegal within a jurisdiction. In some it is illegal for an open container of an alcoholic beverage to be in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle or in some specific area of that compartment.

The German model serves to reduce the number of accidents by identifying unfit drivers and removing them from traffic until their fitness to drive has been established again. The Medical Psychological Assessment (MPA) works for a prognosis of the fitness for drive in future, has an interdisciplinary basic approach and offers the chance of individual rehabilitation to the offender.[1]


Central Asia

East Asia

  • China: 0.02% (CNY 200-500 fine, 1-3 months license suspension); 0.08% (up to 15 days prison, 3-6 months license suspension, CNY 500-2000 fine) Ministry of Public Safety
  • Hong Kong: 0.05%. If driving under alcohol influence beyond legal limit, one can be fined and jailed up to 3 years.
  • Japan: 0.03% [9] [since June 2002]
  • Republic of Korea: 0.05%

Northern Africa

Northern Asia

South Asia

South-East Asia

Western Asia

  • Armenia: Zero
  • Azerbaijan: Zero
  • Georgia: 0.03%
  • Iran: No limit, alcohol is banned.
  • Israel: 0.05%
  • Jordan: Zero
  • Kuwait: No limit, alcohol is banned.
  • Saudi Arabia: No limit, alcohol is banned.
  • Turkey: zero for commercial transportation and public service drivers. Turkey’s 0.05%[2] limit only applies to passenger-less compact vehicles; for all others it is 0.00%.

Western Pacific


The Americas

North America


The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 made it a "per se" offence to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of 80 mg/100 ml of blood. Refusal of a police officer's demand to provide a breath sample was made an offence at the same time and both began as summary conviction offences, with a mandatory minimum C$50 fine.[4]

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a generic term for a series of offences under the Criminal Code of Canada. The main offences are operating a motor vehicle while the ability to do so is impaired by alcohol or a drug, contrary to section 253(a) of the Canadian Criminal Code, and operating a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration of greater than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, contrary to section 253(b) of the Criminal Code. See Criminal Code Sections 253 to 259 Both offences can be committed by a person who is actually operating or driving a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or railway equipment or by a person who has care or control of such a vehicle. Care or control includes actual care or control and presumed care or control section 258(1)(a) where the person occupies the driver's seat. The latter is often the case where police find an individual sleeping behind the wheel.

The offences are usually investigated by the police coming across a driver with either an erratic driving pattern or who has been pulled over. The police may immediately have grounds to arrest for impaired driving and make an approved instrument demand section 254(3). Those grounds are based on various indicia of impairment. If the police merely have a suspicion of alcohol in the individual's body, they may make a demand section 254(2)that the driver give a sample of his breath into an approved screening device, which will determine the driver's blood-alcohol concentration on a preliminary, non-evidentiary basis. Based on the screening device results, if the police believe on reasonable and probable grounds that the driver is committing an offence under section 253 of the Criminal Code, the police can demand that the driver go to the police station to give samples of his breath for an approved instrument test, which would be used to prosecute the driver for over 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

The minimum punishments for impaired driving or driving over 0.08% are:

  • For the first offense: $600 fine, 1-year driving prohibition; or jail time
  • For the second offense: 14 days jail, 2-year driving prohibition
  • For the third or subsequent offense: 90 days jail, 3-year driving prohibition.

In addition to the federal criminal laws, all provincial governments have enacted their own measures against impaired driving. Such laws complement the federal laws (part of the double aspect doctrine of Canadian constitutional law). Some provinces will suspend a driver's licence upon him or her being charged with impaired driving, rather than being convicted. Some provinces will automatically impose a licence suspension that runs longer than the driving prohibition handed down by the court. Provincial and federal driving prohibitions run concurrently if imposed for the same offence(s)at the same time.

In Ontario, a person convicted of a DUI must also complete an 8 month training course [5] and install an ignition interlock device for a period of one year after the licence suspension. [6]

Jail time can be imposed for any first time Criminal Code drinking and driving offence. Jail is appropriate where there is an accident and/or the readings are high. Readings above 160 mg/100mLs are an aggravating circumstance .[7] Jail is the minimum punishment for second and third offences.[8]

Foreigners with recent (in the past 5 years) drunk-driving criminal convictions are generally refused entry at the border. Canada's Immigration Act section 36 considers any foreign drinking and driving outstanding charge or conviction as an Indictable offence (similar to a felony) unless a prosecutor has chosen to proceed by summary conviction.[9]


United States

Signs like this warn drivers about the dangers of driving under the influence and how "you can't afford it". This sign is common in Pennsylvania.

All 50 states now have two statutory offenses[10]. The first is the traditional offense, variously called driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI)[11] or operating while intoxicated/impaired (OWI). The second and more recent is the so-called illegal per se offense of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% (previously 0.10%) or higher. The first offense requires proof of intoxication, although evidence of BAC is admissible as rebuttably presumptive evidence of that intoxication; the second requires only proof of BAC at the time of being in physical control of a motor vehicle. An accused may be convicted of both offenses, but may only be punished for one.

It is also a criminal offense in all states to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs DUID, or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs; the drugs themselves need not be illegal, but can be prescription or even over-the-counter. This offense requires evidence of impairment as a result of the drugs or drugs and alcohol, although some states have passed laws making driving with the mere presence of certain drugs a criminal offense. A number of states have expanded upon DUI laws to make operating a motor vehicle while impaired a punishable offense, which includes sleep deprived driving, among other things.

Some states also include a lesser charge of driving with a BAC of 0.05%; other states limit this offense to drivers under the age of 21. All states also now have zero tolerance laws: the license of anyone under 21 driving with a BAC of .01% or higher (.02% in some states) will be suspended.[12]

The blood-alcohol limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%. [13] Commercial drivers are also subject to stricter punishments for exceeding the blood-alcohol limit. [14]

The validity of the testing equipment and mathematical methods for the measurement of breath and blood alcohol has been severely criticized [11].

Pilots of aircraft may not fly less than eight hours after consuming alcohol, while under the impairing influence of alcohol or any other drug, or while showing a blood alcohol concentration equal to or greater than 0.04 grams per decilitre of blood.[15]

The various versions of "driving under the influence" generally constitute a misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year in jail) However, the offense may be elevated to a felony (punishable by a longer term in state prison) if the incident caused serious injury (felony DUI), death (vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide), or extensive property damage (a state specified dollar amount) or if the defendant has a designated number of prior DUI convictions within a given time period (commonly, 3 prior convictions within 7 years). California, which is being followed by a growing number of states, now charges second-degree murder where the legal state of mind of malice exists -- that is, where the defendant exhibited a reckless indifference to the lives of others [12].

Administrative License Suspension (ALS) • If you are stopped for drunk driving and you refuse to take the sobriety test, or if your test results exceed the legal limit of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), the officer can take your driver's license on the spot, and the suspension begins immediately (Florida).[16] • Depending on previous offenses or refusals, you can have your license automatically suspended for a period of 90 days to five years, or permanently revoked for multiple DWI convictions (Connecticut).[17] • As of 2005, only nine states did not have ALS laws: Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Tennessee.[13]

An SR-22 is an official documentation required to redeem a suspended drivers license and get your car registered at the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A SR22 Filing is a form issued by an insurance company which removes a suspension order placed by the DMV's office on your driving privilege. The most common reason for an SR22 filing is when you are arrested for Driving Under Intoxication (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). The filing provides a guarantee to the state that an insurance company has issued at least minimum liability coverage for the person making that filing and that the insurance company will notify the DMV should the insurance ever lapse for any reason.

Penalties for driving under the influence commonly include incarceration, fines, driver's license suspension or revocation, mandatory attendance at DUI schools, community service, probation and, increasingly, installation of an ignition interlock device. In some jurisdictions, the defendants may also forfeit their vehicles if they're convicted and sentenced.


Central America

South America


European Union

  • Austria: 0.05% and 0.01% for drivers who have held a licence for less than 2 years and drivers of vehicles over 7.5 tonnes
  • Belgium: 0.05%[2]
  • Bulgaria: 0.05%
  • Czech Republic: Zero[2]
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark: 0.05%, imprisonment if over 0.08%, zero if involved in an accident
  • Estonia: Zero
  • France: 0.05%[2], 0.08% (aggravated)
  • Finland: 0.05%[2], 0.12% (aggravated)
  • Germany: zero for beginners (less than 2 years' experience and drivers under the age of 21) as well as drivers making commercial transportation of passengers; 0.03% in conjunction with any other traffic offence or accident; 0.05% without evidence of alcoholic impact; 0.11% => driver licence withdrawn for about one year; 0.16% => regranting of the licence requires a successful medical-psychological driver assessment[18][19][20]
  • Greece: 0.05%[2] and 0.02% for drivers who have held a license for less than 2 years and bus drivers
  • Hungary: Zero[2]
  • Ireland: 0.08%[2], to be reduced to 0.05% or 0.02% for learner and professional drivers.[21]
  • Italy: 0.05%[2]
  • Latvia: 0.02% for drivers with less than 2 years' experience and 0.05% for those with more than 2 years' experience
  • Lithuania: 0.04%[2]
  • Luxembourg: 0.05% and 0.02% for professional drivers and drivers with less than 2 years of experience (since October 1st, 2007)
  • Malta: 0.08%[2]
  • Netherlands: 0.05%[2], 0.02% for drivers with less than 5 years' experience
  • Poland: 0.02%[2]
  • Portugal: 0.05%[2]
  • Romania: Zero
  • Slovakia: Zero[2]
  • Slovenia: Zero for drivers with 2 years or less experience and professional drivers, 0.24 mg/l (0.05%) for all others.
  • Spain: 0.05%[22] and 0.03% for drivers with less than 2 years experience and drivers of freight vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, and of passenger vehicles with more than 9 seats.
  • Sweden: 0.02% (up to 6 months imprisonment), 0.10% (up to 2 years imprisonment)
  • United Kingdom: 0.08%[2]

In the UK, driving or attempting to drive whilst above the legal limit or unfit through drink carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a minimum 12 months' driving ban. An endorsement for a drink-driving offence remains on a driving licence for 11 years. Being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in three months' imprisonment plus a fine of up to £2,500 and a driving ban.

The penalty for refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis is a maximum six months' imprisonment, up to £5000 fine and a driving ban of at least 12 months. Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, a minimum two-year driving ban and a requirement to pass an extended driving test before the offender is able to drive legally again.

Note: "Zero" usually means "below detection limit".

Other European countries


Road laws are state or territory based, but all states and territories have set the maximum BAC at 0.05%.

In Australia, laws allow police officers to stop any driver and perform a random breath test without reason. Roadblocks can be set up - for example leading out of town centres on Friday and Saturday nights, or during football or other events - where every single driver will be breath-tested. This differs from UK and US laws, where police generally need a reason to suspect that the driver is intoxicated, before issuing a breath test.

Australian Capital Territory

  • 0.02% for drivers holding a learner, provisional, probationary or restricted licence; or for drivers of a heavy vehicle (>4,500 kg GVM), dangerous goods vehicle, Commonwealth (government) vehicle, public passenger vehicle (e.g. taxi or bus), private hire car or restricted hire car
  • 0.05% for motorcyclists and all other drivers

New South Wales

  • Zero for Learner and Provisional licences
  • 0.02% for Drivers of vehicles of "gross vehicle mass" greater than 13.9 tonnes, vehicles carrying dangerous goods or public vehicles such as a taxi or bus.
  • 0.05% for all other drivers

Northern Territory

  • Zero for provisional (probationary) licence holders.
  • 0.05% for all other drivers.


  • A Zero limit applies to the drivers of trucks, buses, articulated vehicles, vehicles carrying dangerous goods, pilot vehicles, taxis, all learner drivers and provisional drivers under 25 years of age.
  • 0.05% for other drivers.
  • Zero limit for methamphetamine, Cannabis and MDMA.

South Australia

  • Zero limit for learner, provisional, probationary, heavy (greater than 15 tonne) vehicle, taxis, licensed chauffeured vehicles, dangerous goods, and bus licences.
  • 0.05% for all other drivers.
  • Zero limit for methamphetamine, Cannabis and MDMA.


  • Zero limit for learner, provisional, truck, bus, and taxi licences.
  • 0.05% for all other drivers.


  • Zero limit applies for unlicensed drivers, holders of learner permits and probationary licences, "professional" drivers, and certain relicensed drink-drivers.
  • Below 0.05% for most other drivers.
  • Zero limit for methamphetamine, Cannabis and MDMA.

There are also other restrictions for drivers in Victoria:

  • Limits apply within 3 hours of driving - that is, police can require a person to submit to an alcohol or drugs test within 3 hours of driving and it is an offence to fail that test, unless the drug or alcohol use occured after driving (see Road Safety Act 1986, ss. 49, 53 and 55E).
  • Licences cancelled for certain serious drink-driving offences may only be reissued after obtaining a court order. This is the case for repeat offenders, and first offenders above 0.15% . In such cases, the relicensed driver is subject to a zero limit for 3 years following relicensing, or for as long as the person is required to use an alcohol interlock.
  • Alcohol interlocks must be imposed whenever a repeat drink-driver is relicensed.
  • A court also has discretion to impose an alcohol interlock when relicensing a first offender in certain serious cases, generally when the offence involves a BAC of 0.15% or higher.
  • If a doctor sees any patient who is aged 15 years or over as a result of a motor vehicle accident, the patient must allow the doctor to take a blood sample for testing for alcohol and drug content in a way that preserves the chain of evidence. If this process is skipped the doctor may not be able to discover the alcohol blood level. The results can be used as evidence in subsequent court proceedings.
  • The law allows a police officer to require any driver (or any person who has driven a vehicle within the last three hours) to perform a random saliva test for methamphetamine, Cannabis or MDMA, all of which are subject to a zero limit (see Road Safety Act 1986: ss. 49, 55E & 55D)

Western Australia

  • 0.02% for learner, provisional (probationary) licence holders, convicted of driving under the influence (for three years after the offence) and failing to comply with a request for breath, blood or urine (for three years after the offence).
  • 0.05% for all other drivers.


  1. Müller & Laub 2006. The Medical Psychological Assessment: An Opportunity for the Individual, Safety for the General Public
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits Worldwide, International Centre For Policy Studies. Page retrieved 30 October 2006
  3. This is according to section 185 of Motor Vehicles Act 1988. On first offence, the punishment is imprisonment of 6 months and/or fine of 2000 Indian Rupees (INR). If the second offence is committed within three years, the punishment is 2 years and/or fine of 3000 Indian Rupees (INR). The clause of 30 mg/dL was added by an amendment in 1994. It came into effect beginning 14 November 1994.
  4. Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (May 1999). "Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving — Chapter 2: Legislative Background". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved on 2008-04-14.
  5. [1]Back on Track Programme
  6. [2]Highway Traffic Act, section 41.2
  7. [3]Criminal Code of Canada, section 255.1
  8. [4]Criminal Code of Canada, section 255(1)
  9. [5]Immigration Act, Canada, section 36
  10. Alcohol-Related Laws: Full Report by State
  11. See, e.g., N.Y. Vehicle and traffic law, section 1192, found at New York Assembly official web site. Go to "Bill Search and Legislative Materials", then "New York State Laws." Accessed March 17, 2008.
  12. Zero Tolerance
  13. 49 CFR 382.20
  14. Commercial Drivers
  15. 14 CFR 91.17, also known as Federal Air Regulation 91.17
  16. Florida Administrative Suspension Laws (Accessed 14 May 2008)
  17. Connecticut DWI Law (Accessed 05 Jan 2008)
  18. Medical-psychological assessment as prerequisites for regranting of licences
  19. Traffic expert congress ´Fit-to-drive 2006´ Evaluation of the medical-psychological assessment procedure MPA in Germany
  20. Hints for your MPA - Customer information of TÜV SÜD Group
  21. Irish Independent - "One pint too much as drive limit cut"
  22. El alcohol y la conducción (page in Spanish). Page retrieved 30 October 2006.
  23. UK Government Advice on Gibraltar Page retrieved 30 October 2006.

See also

External links

de:Fahren unter Einfluss psychoaktiver Substanzen nl:Alcohol en verkeer no:Kjøring i påvirket tilstand simple:Drunk driving fi:Rattijuopumus sv:Rattfylleri