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Drunken driving laws by country

The National Transportation Safety Board’s recent recommendation to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .05 created quite a stir, with strong opposition from restaurant and tavern groups.

After I posted a story on the recommendation, Nina Emerson of the UW’s Resource Center on Impaired Driving sent along this map from the World Health Organiztion, which puts a world perspective on the NTSB’s suggestion.

It shows that the U.S., Canada and Mexico are outliers when it comes to drinking and driving. Among industrialized countries, those in North and Central America — along with the U.K. — are almost alone in allowing anything above .05. The next-largest block of land that allows a greater concentration than .05 is in central Africa.

Areas colored red — mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe — are countries where there are no limits, although technically blood-alcohol limits are not needed in several of them because alcohol consumption is illegal.

Here's a short survey put together by a California attorney that shows that while Canada and the United Kingdom, like the U.S., set the bar at .08, they're more vigorous in prosecuting drunken drivers, especially in the U.K., where a second offense results in a three-year driving ban.

In Japan, anyone with an alcohol concentration between .03 and .05 who is involved in an accident, regardless of fault, faces one to three years in prison and possible forced labor.

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In China, the most populous country in the world, the bar is set at .02. 

And here's a rundown on MSN of some of the harsher penalties imposed on drunken drivers, ranging from prison time for the spouse of a drunken driver in Malaysia to 80 lashes in the United Arab Emirates.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.