Which Countries Are The Worst For Drinking-Driving?

Which Countries Are The Worst For Drinking-Driving?

The US has a shameful record for drink-driving among high-income countries with one of the highest rates of road traffic deaths due to alcohol related accidents.

Last year 37,461 people were killed on US roads. According to research from the World Health Organization, around 31% of these people – over 11,600 – were killed in accidents involving alcohol.

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Drink-driving may be on the decline, but it is clearly still a major problem in the US, particularly among young drivers.

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Budget Direct, a provider of car insurance in Australia, has compiled data comparing the percentage of road traffic deaths involving alcohol in high-income countries.

Shockingly, the US is in the top quarter of worst offenders, with a percentage of 31% road traffic deaths involving alcohol, surpassed only by Uruguay (38%) and Canada (34%).

Country % of road traffic deaths involving alcohol
Uruguay 38%
Canada 34%
New Zealand 31%
United States of America 31%
Portugal 31%
Australia 30%
Slovenia 30%
France 29%
Argentina 27%
Belgium 25%
Estonia 25%
Italy 25%
Slovakia 23%
Luxembourg 22%
Finland 22%
Iceland 20%
Croatia 19%
Sweden 19%
Netherlands 19%
Norway 17%
United Kingdom 17%
Switzerland 16%
Poland 16%
Ireland 16%


Legislation in the US differs from many other high-income in two ways: the minimum age that you legally purchase alcohol is higher than in most countries, whereas the drink-driving limit is actually higher.

Road traffic deaths surge as minimum drinking age is lowered

Looking at data from 2015, almost 30% drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes were aged between 21 and 24 years of age, which suggests that drink-driving is more prevalent around younger drivers.

However, while some believe that lowering the drinking age could combat underage binge-drinking drinking – particularly in college towns – there is not much to suggest that this would do anything to prevent drink-driving.

In fact, this approach had the opposite effect in New Zealand, when the decision to lower the country’s minimum drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999 increased the risk of young people being involved in a serious alcohol-related car crash.

In the US, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is keen to show that a higher drinking age has helped saved lives. A past statement said: "Minimum legal drinking age laws have proven to be a very effective and important countermeasure for reducing drunk driving when younger drivers are involved."

What is the drink-driving limit?

In most states, you are allowed to drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration up to 0.08%. However, some states can also impose a lesser charge for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%.

Drink-driving laws in the US are more relaxed than other high-income countries around the world, which range from a policy of zero-tolerance to up to 0.05% BAC.

Comparing this with Europe, there are only three countries where the drink-driving limit is as high as 0.08%: England, Wales and Malta.

Drink-driving over the holidays

Drink-driving is particularly pertinent over the festive period, as alcohol consumption rises. According to government data, the number of traffic deaths involving alcohol could be as high as 40% over Christmas and New Year’s.

Gerry O’Shaughnessy, Community Manager of Budget Direct, says: “Drivers should take special care over Christmas not to get behind a wheel if they have consumed alcohol. Even if you arrange a cab after a big night, you are still at a high risk of breaking the law if you drive your vehicle the next morning.”

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