Laws Limiting Drunk Driving: Examples from US and Europe

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For as long as people can know, alcohol has always been a major part of human society. When drinking responsibly, alcohol is great for social aspects and even for relaxing nights. Whether it is going out to the bar with friends, or having a glass of wine at dinner, alcohol is consumed for many different purposes in order to make life just little bit nicer. However, alcohol is also an extremely dangerous product when misused, and is more often than not, abused, causing many issues throughout the world. There are many dangers that can occur while alcohol is involved, and the issues are going each year. When there is an opportunity for harm to be created, there need to be laws and regulations set in place in order to help people drink more responsibly. Starting from the beginning, the service of alcohol and their regulations are strictly controlled, all throughout the world, in order to try and keep people safe. However, unfortunately, these can only do so much. One of the biggest issues with alcohol is drunk driving. Statistically speaking, every day, 29 people in the United States die in drunk driving accidents. This is already such a high number, and does not even include the rest of the world and their own statistics. With accidents like these, laws have to be enforced, and different penalties need to come to action. Yet, the entire world, with different customs and lifestyles, cannot all enforce the same laws, so each place has their own rules and regulations when it comes to alcohol and drunken violations.

In the United States, there are federal laws, and then there are state laws. Most states follow the federal law when it comes to alcohol, and some states have minor changes, when it comes to penalties, enforcement, and customized rules. A few important things to know about the federal laws regarding alcohol in the United States is that the legal age in all states to consume alcohol is 21. This is a fact that most people know, as the United States is very strict on enforcing this law. The national BAC (blood alcohol content) limit for being legally intoxicated is 0.08 for over the age of 21. The federal legal BAC limit for individuals under the age of 21 is 0.00. When it comes to serving alcohol, the legal age in most states to serve in a bar or a lounge is 21. These are all federal laws for the United States, however, some of them vary from state to state.

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Starting on the east side of the United States, Massachusetts follows a lot of the federal laws revolving around alcohol. Massachusetts prohibits the operation of motor vehicle in any public place with a BAC of 0.08% or more. It is illegal for those under 21 to drive with a BAC above 0.02%. If this occurs, the state charges the person with an OUI. A difference of laws in Massachusetts from that of the federal laws, is that the minimum legal age to serve alcohol is 18. However, some individual bars may make their own requirements to be at least 21. It is also illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase alcohol. People under the age of 21 may drink, only if a parent, guardian, grandparent, or legal-aged spouse gives them the alcohol, in a private setting. With these laws set in place, penalties are given, if the regulations are not followed. For illegal underage possession of alcohol, there is a fine of up to $50 for the first offence, and up to $150 for the second offense. When selling alcohol, out of state drivers licenses are not acceptable proof of age in Massachusetts, as it is in other states. That being said, it is legal for places to deny a customer the right to purchase alcohol if they have an out of state driver’s license.

When it comes to drunk driving, things are taken very serious. Open containers of alcohol are illegal in vehicles. The penalty for driving with an open container (except for in the trunk) is a fine of $100 - $500. When it comes to OUI’s, there are different penalties. For the first offence, there is a driver’s license suspension of 45 to 90 days. Criminal penalties include license suspension for one year and a fine of $500 to up to $5,000. Jail is also possible for up to 2.5 years. Going along with this, for under 18 years old, the court sends the driver to a Youth Alcohol Program and a suspension period of one year. For the ages of 18 to 21, these drivers must attend Youth Alcohol Program and a suspension period of 180 days. The second offense for an OUI depends on the first offence, but the driver must have an ignition interlock device put in their car. Possible jail time can range between 60 days and 2.5 years, and courts can require an alcohol education program. For the third offense, it again, depends on the previous two offenses, however, license can be suspended for eight years, and fined to up to $15,000. Jail time can be between 180 days and 2.5 years or prison time of 2.5 years to 5 years. The same goes for the fourth and fifth offenses, however, the time and money is increased for the penalties. In order for police to know a person’s BAC, they must take a sobriety test. However, Massachusetts alcohol laws permit drivers to refuse taking a field sobriety test, as they are very unreliable.

In Massachusetts, about 15,000 to 16,500 people a year are arraigned on drunken driving charges. The most common last-drink reports of those who were involved in drunk driving incidents were those of sports venues and bars, such as Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, and TD Garden. Massachusetts is a strict state with their liquor laws and with these rules and regulations enforced, they are trying to decrease the amounts of tragic incidents occurring while alcohol is involved.

On the opposite side of the country, is the state of California. California, like Massachusetts, mainly follow the federal drinking laws, however, does have their own twist on a couple of them, especially with their penalties. In California, the first DUI conviction is between a $390 and $1,000 fine. Possible jail time is between 48 hours and six months. Typically, there is a six-month license suspension. It is illegal for drivers to have a BAC content of 0.08% or more. Drivers must do BAC testing, and if refused, can face a one year suspension. With a first DUI offender, they usually also receive a three-year term of informal probation, however can be up to 5 years. They must complete DUI school, which is 30 hours of classes. A second DUI conviction have the same fine amounts. Second offenders can face from 96 hours to one year in jail, and there is a two-year suspension of licenses. There is also typically a three-year term of informal probation and must complete 18 or 30 month DUI School. A third DUI conviction also has the same fine amounts, and jail time is increased to between 120 days and one year. All third offenders must have an ignition interlock device (IID) for at least two years. Probation can be from three years to five years and DUI school is 30 months. California has a “zero tolerance” law, making it illegal for underage drivers to drive with a BAC of 0.01% or more. Commercial drivers can be arrested for a DUI with a BAC of 0.04% or more.

When it comes to the service of alcohol, California also allows people of the age of 18 years or older to serve at venues that sell alcohol for drinking on site. However, there is no age requirement for selling alcohol in stores for consumption off site. California also allows people of any age to consume alcohol in a private location, except in vehicles. There must be a parent, guardian, spouse, or 21-year-old or older present.

Like Massachusetts, California tends to stick somewhat to the overall federal law of the United States. California is also a state that takes their liquor laws very seriously, in order to ensure the safety of the people. Through these rules and regulations of drunk driving and serving alcohol, it is clear to see the similarities and differences between the states of Massachusetts and California. This is at no surprise, since they are part of the same country and have federal laws throughout the entire United States.

The same types of laws can be seen all throughout the United States, however, they are not the only country that has liquor laws. In fact, all countries have their own individual liquor laws. The very famous country of Italy, is very well known for their wine, which is alcohol. Throughout the country, wine is a huge part of Italian culture and it is a norm to always be drinking. However, Italy does have very strict drinking and driving laws, along with some rules and regulations for the service of alcohol.

Like most things in Europe, their measurements are quite different than in the United States. In Italy, being considered under the influence is if the person has a blood alcohol level of 0.5 mg. To put this into drink terms, more than one glass of wine or beer risks going over the limit. The penalties vary in Italy for getting a DUI. The lowest is getting a fine and it can go all the way up to vehicle confiscation and imprisonment. Different factors that decide this are the car that they’re driving, their age, if they pass the breathalyzer, etc. Penalties for drinking and driving in Italy vary based on the alcohol limit. Between 0 and 0.5 g/l there is no penalty charged. This only applies for drivers under the age of 21. Between 0.5 and 0.8 g/l is not punishable and payment between 531,00 euro and 2.125,00 in addition to suspension of license for a 3 to 6-month period. Between 0.8 to 1.5 g/l the fines can range from 800,00 euro and 3.200,00 euro and imprisonment up to 6 months. More than 1.5 g/l involves criminal penalty and fine between 1.500 euro and 6.000 and imprisonment between 6 months and 1 year.

Serving regulations in Italy are quite different from those of the United States. First, it is forbidden to sell alcohol to minors during night hours. Minors are not allowed to buy alcohol; however, minors do not have any penalties for drinking alcohol unless they are drunk. If a minor is caught drunk, they must be delivered to their parents or guardian. The minimum drinking age in Italy is 18, so it is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. Those that sell to minors will be fined and sometimes a suspension of liquor license.

As seen through these examples, all throughout the world, liquor laws are taken very seriously. In different parts of the world, there are different laws that apply and different penalties that come with them. As mentioned above, Massachusetts and California have very similar laws, as they both fall under the federal laws of the United States. Of course, with every state, there are modifications made in order to have exactly what the state needs in order to keep their people safe. Along with differences in the laws, there are also many differences in the penalties, in order to fit the state’s individual preferences. This can be found in every state in the United States. Going outside of the country, there are also many different types of liquor laws. In each individual country, they have their own laws and penalties in order to fit their culture, norms, and lifestyle. In Italy, drinking is a big part of the Italian culture, and the liquor laws that they have apply into knowing the way their life is. However, no matter the differences in liquor laws throughout the world, there is one definite similarity, which is that drunk driving laws and serving laws are taken very seriously, no matter which place it is. Issues with alcohol are such a major issue in the world, and with these laws set in place, helps people in the world be safer, all while being able to enjoy all aspects of alcohol.

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Laws Limiting Drunk Driving: Examples from US and Europe. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
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