Sunday, May 24, 2009

Drunk Driving in Sweden

Nope. Not me. I was not driving drunk in Sweden. And neither was anyone I know actually. Instead, while I was wandering around one evening, I noticed something that made me think about the way drunk driving laws differ between the US and Sweden. And since I just wrote about Systembolaget and how they can help you get drunk on the cheap in Sweden, I thought this was a fitting follow-up.

The other day I was walking around Södermalm on my way to meet a buddy for a drink. And I passed a car parked on the side of the street. And glanced inside. Mostly because I am very nosy. Sitting in the cup holder extending from the dashboard, was a can of Sofiero. A classic Swedish beer. Not a very good one, but Swedish nonetheless. And it was open.

I did a bit of a double take. Because that just doesn’t fly in the US. No open alcoholic containers are allowed in cars. Hell, some places even make you put the alcohol in the trunk so it isn’t even within reach of the driver.

Drunk driving laws differ a bit between the US and Sweden. In the US, the drunk driving laws differ by state. But in Colorado it is a blood alcohol content level of .08%. I think most states are similar. Basically, that ends up being a couple of beers. Or a couple of glasses of wine. Or a couple of shots.

In Sweden though, the limit is .02%. Essentially, one or one and a half drink will put you over the limit. If you get really drunk and find yourself at .10% or above, you’ve graduated to an even higher level of punishment.

The punishments differ a bit as well. Sweden is pretty rough on drunk drivers. As they should be. This may be one of the few times when I actually think the Swedish justice system does a damn good job. From my understanding, drunk driving in Sweden can result in six months in prison and fines for the first level, and up to two years and fines for that magical level of .10%. There is also the possibility that your license will be suspended for up to five years. That’s a solid punishment.

In the US, the punishment, just like the laws, differs state by state. Your license might be pulled, but most likely you will just get restrictions. Fines are likely. Community service is possible as well as mandatory attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous is possible. Jail is possible. The ignition lock thing that checks to see if people have been drinking before the car will start is possible. But that’s the thing; there is no overriding punishment system. Some states don’t even pull your license after several drunk driving convictions. Others won’t put you in jail until your second conviction. It’s ridiculous.

Plenty of studies have been done which seem to show that this works. The punishment cuts down on drunk driving. It cuts down on the number of alcohol related accidents. So well done Sweden. And for those of you moving to Sweden. Pay attention. More than one drink will put you over the limit.

Welcome to Sweden. Where drunk driving laws make a difference.

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26 comments:

  1. Setting the limit low enough so that the question you ask yourself before you drive is "have I drunk anything?" instead of "how much did I drink?" makes all kinds of sense. It's not like driving while slightly intoxicated is a right the liberal among us will cry over not having.

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  2. and it seems to work pretty well here in Sweden.

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  3. I think it's a little rediculous. I mean most people have a beer or glass of wine with dinner. So, essentialy you can never go to a freind's for dinner or to a restaurant and enjoy one drink without hitting .02%. That's just getting over excited about drunk-driving in my opinion....

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  4. The attitudes toward drinking and driving are so different between the US and Sweden too. In the US it's like, "Dude I've only had three or four drinks and I'm not even feeling buzzed. Obviously." In Sweden it's more like, "Well, I have to drive tomorrow morning so I'd better not have anything to drink tonight. Obviously." I think you are right: Sweden's got this one in the bag.

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  5. Here in Canada you can get charged for drunk driving for being behind the wheel even if your keys are not in the ignition! If you let people leave your party all smashed up and they get into an accident you can get charged for criminal negligence. I despise drunk drivers with a passion. My partner's grandfather was killed by a drunk driver shortly after his 87th birthday:(

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  6. The Sun is shining and the booze is running...hell, it's Summer alright. Hairy, it would be easier if you used permille instead of percent. That's how alcohol concentration is normally printed. Just wanted to smart-ass you :)

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  7. Most people I have met in US is fine with drinking a 6-pack and then driving home, designated driver was the one who can stand up after the party. hehe This might be because I was partying in some really poor neighborhoods at that time, everyone was also stoned. There also was a difference if you have cops or firefighters in you family, you had to do something really wrong to get arrested then.

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  8. Yeah! Stupid Cops and Firefighters! Always causing troubel everywere they go.

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  9. I'm definitely with you on this. The Swedish justice system is a bit "lax" overall but this time they nailed it. I don't understand how you can be so selfish and irresponsible that you would drive while drunk. You're not only putting your own life on the line, you're also endangering the lives of every other person on the road.

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  10. I actually think you're way over the limit if you have "one or one and a half drink" as you put it. Half a glass of beer or wine is the most, and then you should really leave it for a few hours before driving.

    I've never seen what the big deal is - if you HAVE TO drink, then don't bloody drive, get another form of transport - simple as that. And if you live out in the stick, well then JUST DON'T DRINK!

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  11. I truly despise drunk drivers. It really annoys me when people joke about it...like it's funny or even remotely amusing. It really pisses me off. If the justice system took first offenses more seriously, I think it would make a big difference. Most people are out driving straightaway. It's unbelievable.

    That open container thing is interesting. I lived in Montana for a few years and was shocked when they were trying to pass laws against open containers. I didn't think that was allowed anywhere in the US. The really crazy part is how hard the wackadoos up there were fighting open container laws. At the time they had some of the worst drunk driving stats in the country (probably still do). I'm not sure if the open container laws have helped, but the people up there seemed to be of the mind the drunk driving was some sort of inalienable right. Totally outrageous.

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  12. @m8 – It can get a little strict. But I’ll be honest, it doesn’t bother me one bit. Whether we want to admit it or not, a drink has an effect. Granted, depending on size and all of that good stuff, it has less of an effect. But still. I’d rather know that the person on the road next to me is stone cold sober.

    @Rachael – You are absolutely right. Especially in college.

    @Néstor – That makes sense though, like conspiracy to commit drunk driving. Or attempted drunk driving. Very interesting.

    And I’m sorry about your partner’s grandfather. It seems like everyone is somehow connected to a drunk driving accident.

    @Smek – you’re killing me. I’m going to claim my American passport on this one.

    @Anonymous – this is one of those moments when it is best to chant USA! USA! USA! (facetiously of course)

    @Anonymous – it’s not easy helping people all of the time.

    @Robban – We are agreeing way too often.

    @terander - Yeah, if you’re driving, it’s so very easy to just not drink.

    @E – the booze cruise. It’s interesting that it doesn’t seem to be a big deal here in Sweden but that the actual drunk driving laws are so strict. It seems to work though.

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  13. i wonder if states is calm and quiet as sweden, here you almost feel no stress, strain or any pressure. even when i become frustrated and stressed out i just need to go out see people and that's it,i even heard about this quality from some guy from France.
    what do you think Hairy?!
    The only problem is language though! it seems so tough :(

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  14. Yeah, i know it's ridiculous...

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  15. @Glamorous – Sweden is a very calm place, youre right. I think in the US it depends on where you are. Its such a big country that some places can be extremely stressful, while others are calm and quiet. I’d say Colorado, where Im from, is pretty calm. But I am horribly biased because I quite like Colorado.

    @Robban – I feel like I should say something really outrageous just so we can disagree. So here goes. Americans are obviously the most intelligent and good looking people in the world. And Swedish-Americans are the most intelligent and good looking of them all.

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  16. I disagree to disagree!

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  17. Yeah, I saw what you were trying to do there. You were trying to make "agree to disagree". But not this guy! I only disagree in dis-consensus!

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  18. At least we've got that cleared up now. I'll keep that in mind for later posts.

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  19. See, is that so much to ask?

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  20. One minor difference between Sweden and the USA: Sweden has public transit so there is NEVER an excuse to drive after drinking. Only in a few US cities have that luxury.

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  21. I dont know that I really agree with that. Plenty of places in the US have public transportation but it just isnt used as often. And all of th ebig cities do have public transportation that tends to be decent enough to use.

    And there are plenty of small towns in Sweden that stuggle with public transportation.

    But I will say that one of the differences is the reliance on the car. The car culture. Not so much that there aren't other options but that it is such a part of the culture in the US to drive places.

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  22. Been drunk and drive are the most stupid things one can do, it is an accident 99% of the times, many people have died because of a drunk driver.

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  23. California is strict on drunk drivers. Simply sitting in your car with the ignition on, while drunk, will get you a DUI. You'll also get a misdemeanor charge, suspended license, 3 month required AA type class, 8 days of community service, and spend around 5 000 in court and lawyer fees. Y the time everything is said and done. Oh and having DUI on your record will make it harder to get some jobs and will raise your car insurance. Yeah, I'd say our laws are strict enough.

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  24. I am all for incredibly strict drunk driving laws.

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