Monday, June 13, 2011

Drinking and Not Driving in Sweden

I have mixed feelings about the attitude toward alcohol in Sweden. I find it a bit difficult to stomach, in some ways. I am the type of person who likes a glass of wine with dinner, maybe two on a Friday or Saturday night. But I really am not a fan of getting drunk, and avoid it unless it is either a crayfish party or midsummers. This drinking style, in my experience, is a bit in contrast to typical Swedish drinking.

That said, one of the things that I respect most about the Swedes I have had the pleasure of partying with, is their attitude towards drunk driving. You just don't do it. There is no 'It's OK to drive after a beer, or a glass of wine.' like we learned in Driver's Ed. There is no mathematically calculating your weight and the amount of alcohol in a beverage.

You just don't get behind the wheel if you've had a drink.

The Swedish legal limit is quite low, and this is probably a main motivator in this issue. It is .02, compared to .08 in the US.

But drunk driving has a strange amount of social acceptance in the US. Maybe it's because we are so dependent on our cars, but I know several people who have lost their liscences due to drunk driving, who continue to drive after a few cold ones. Driving under the influence in the US is something many people think you just have to do if you live in a suburb.

Driving under the influence in Sweden remains pretty taboo. In Sweden most people take the bus, or the train, or a cab. Sometimes a designated driver will step up. Sometimes, although I question the sanity of this at times, people bike home instead. Other times people sleep over.

Another thing I noticed, after a party this weekend, was that some of the big drinkers refused to drive the next day. This makes perfect sense. I get it. But I can tell you, as someone who strongly opposes drunk driving, I never even thought about not driving the next day, and it was never discussed in Driver's Ed.

I will admit, that I drove the next day, to pick up Diner Breakfast, when I probably should have been off the road. Thankfully no one was hurt. I would never do that today.

So even if I bitch and moan occasionally about Swedish alcohol culture, Systembolaget, stor stark and other related things, I do think Swedes get the important part of it right, the part that saves a lot of lives.


  1. This is very true. I have often commented on the strange drinking culture in Sweden (relative to South Africa where I grew up). But not driving after drinking makes a lot of sense, probably more than any other of the cultural differences related to alcohol.

  2. I am like you. I like a glas of wine with some good food but thats about it. I guess there are more options besides the car here in Sweden which makes it a lot more easy not to risk driving under the influence. In the US you just have to take your car if you have been to a party in the suburb in so many parts of the US. Higher amounts of alchol are are allowed by law also in the US. I heard that you have to be prepared to take responsability of your drinking in the US more. Even if the amount of alcohol permitted is higher if you are involved in some kind of accident after having been drinking at all you are held responsible for whatever happened. So yes you are allowed to drive after having a beer or two but it is on your judgement and risk getting in the car after those two beer also. That also makes sense.

  3. How is that taking more responsibility? Causing an accident while drunk will be punishid harder than vausing an accident sober (here in Sweden), because you should hsave known better. Your last part is just really strange, how on earth can you think that it makes sense that it's OK to risk other peoples lives just because you (or anyone) think they can drive after drinking? You do know that one of the earliest effects of alcohol is poor judgement!? And your reaction time is severly affected long before you actually feel drunk!

  4. As an American in Sweden, I totally agree with you. It's really interesting, and sometimes I still feel myself instinctively thinking, "Come on, you can have one beer. You will be fine." And of course that person probably will. But their complete no tolerance of drinking and driving can only be good, so I keep my mouth shut.

    Interesting, though, too about the no driving the next morning rule. We don't have a car, so it's not like we're thinking about it on a regular basis, but I would never have thought of that.

    Best wishes from Lund!

    Kate |

  5. A good decision that no one is hurt, avoiding to do the wrong thing will make sense. Driver should had a sense of responsibility in doing his/her duties on the road. Ask DUI lawyer for advice on this.

    Joseph @ alcohol interlock device

    Sydney Drink & Drug Driving lawyers
    Beazley Singleton Lawyers
    14/370 Pitt St
    Sydney NSW 2000
    (02)9283 8622

  6. “I do think Swedes get the important part of it right, the part that saves a lot of lives.”—I strongly agree with this. Regardless of how much alcohol you consume, it can still cause you some impairment; which is not good for you when you drive.

  7. The law might raise some eyebrows, but it makes sense. The main concern of it is to protect the citizens from drunk driving-related incidents. Though some might argue that they could still function properly after a few drinks, it would still be more responsible to have someone else drive, or just hail a cab to get home. Thanks for sharing!

    Kim Hunter

  8. Yeah no doubt that wine and beer have become part of one’s lifestyle in many parts of world including Sweden but it doesn’t mean that you should start doing drunk driving. My cousin works with a DUI attorney Los Angeles and he tells me how tough DUI laws are there and if convicted you put your professional as well as personal live on stake.