What are the Legal Blood Alcohol Levels Across the World?

Almost 10,000 people die in the U.S. each year as a result of alcohol-impaired driving, accounting for nearly one third of all traffic-related deaths in the country. The most important step anybody can take to protect other drivers and pedestrians is to learn the legal blood alcohol level for driving and stick to it. However, the legal blood alcohol level varies among countries around the world, so we’ll look at the U.K., other E.U. countries, China, Japan and Brazil.

Understanding Blood Alcohol Content

Blood alcohol levels are generally expressed as a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). This is defined slightly differently in different countries, but in general, it tells you the percentage of alcohol in an individual’s blood. For example, a BAC of 0.10 means 0.1% blood alcohol, or 1 part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood. When you have a drink, the effect it has on your BAC depends on various factors, including your gender, your weight and what you’ve eaten. There are online calculators you can use to get a rough (but not exact) estimate of your BAC based on what you’ve had to drink.

Legal Blood Alcohol Level Around the World


In the U.S., the legal blood alcohol level is 0.08. Above this level, alcohol’s impairment to your driving ability becomes serious. It’s important to remember that the safest approach is to not drink any alcohol if you’ll be driving later.


In the U.K., the legal blood alcohol level is 0.08. However, in Scotland a more stringent limit of 0.05 is imposed.

E.U. Countries

The legal limit varies across E.U. countries. In the majority of them, the maximum legal blood alcohol level is 0.05, but there are exceptions, which are listed below. The following countries have a zero tolerance policy (i.e., a limit of 0.00):

  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Slovakia

A still-stringent limit of 0.02 is imposed in:

  • Cyprus
  • Estonia
  • Poland
  • Sweden

Finally Lithuania has a limit of 0.04, and Malta’s limit is equivalent to that in the U.S. and U.K., at 0.08.


In China, there are two different levels of drunk-driving offense. Driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher classifies as the more serious “driving while intoxicated,” but driving with a BAC of 0.02 to 0.08 classifies as “driving after drinking alcohol,” which still carries a fine and a six-month license suspension.


Driving with a BAC of 0.03 or higher is a crime in Japan, with punishments up to $10,000 (USD) in fines and five years in prison.


Brazil has a zero tolerance approach to drunk-driving. If you have detectable levels of alcohol in your blood when driving, you will be punished.

Stay Sober; Stay Safe

Whether you’re at home or abroad, learning the legal blood alcohol level where you are keeps you on the right side of the law. However, the best way to stay safe is to avoid drinking any alcohol if you’ll be driving. Sources: “Blood Alcohol Calculator” — Alcohol Help Center “Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Drink Driving Limits across Europe “— European Transport Safety Council “China: Harsher Punishments for Driving After Drinking” — Library of Congress “Japan” — U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs “Brazil” — Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “Impaired Driving: Get the Facts” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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