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Driving under the influence of alcohol, or drink-driving, reduces driving ability and increases significantly the risk of crash. Finland’s drink-driving limit is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.5 per mille. The safe limit for driving is zero. Even a small quantity of alcohol hinders the ability to drive.

Drink-driving a motorised vehicle is an offence, regardless of whether driving off road, on the ice of a lake, on the road or anywhere else. Even though the number of alcohol-related road deaths has decreased in Finland over the years, the percentual amount of all road deaths has stayed the same. Drink-driving is still a significant road safety issue in Finland.

Drink-driving is an offence when:

  1. the blood alcohol content (BAC) is at least 0.05% or there is at least 0.22 milligrams of alcohol per litre of exhaled air during or after driving.
  2. the driver has used a narcotic substance so that the active substance or its metabolite is present in their blood during or after driving (excluding pharmaceutical products the driver is entitled to use).
  3. the driver has used a narcotic substance other than alcohol, or such a substance and alcohol, in such a way that their ability to perform their task has deteriorated.

Drink-driving is classified as aggravated if:

  • the blood alcohol content is at least 0.12% or there is at least 0.53 milligrams of alcohol per litre of exhaled air.
  • the ability to perform required actions is clearly weakened. 
  • a narcotic substance other than alcohol or such a substance and alcohol is used in such a way that the ability to perform required actions has deteriorated considerably, and the circumstances are such that the offence is likely to pose a risk to the safety of others.

Alcohol plays also a significant role in bicycle and electric scooter accidents. Operating a motorless vehicle intoxicated (for instance riding a bike or e-scooting) can also be classed as a crime if it poses a danger to others. Also lending your car to a drunk person may result in prosecution and other severe consequences.

A drunk driver is financially responsible for any damage caused to themselves, the passengers and third parties. They may also lose their right to compensation from traffic and car insurance. In serious cases of drink-driving, the passenger also loses their insurance cover.

Alcohol burns off slowly

Even a small amount of alcohol in the blood reduces driving ability and increases the likelihood of an accident. The accident risk increases rapidly as the blood alcohol level rises. Compared to a sober driver, the risk to crash is forty times as high when the blood alcohol content surpasses 1.5 per mille.

The body burns alcohol slowly and at a rate that varies greatly between individuals. A general estimate is that alcohol burns at a rate of 1 gram per hour per 10 kilos of bodyweight. But the rate depends on your size, whether you are male or female, how much food you’ve eaten etc. The process cannot be accelerated for instance by drinking coffee or exercising.

An average of three units of alcohol raises the blood alcohol content above the legal limit of drink-driving (0.05%). A unit of alcohol is e.g. a 0.33 l of medium-strength beer, 12 cl of wine or 4 cl of spirits. It takes about two hours for one unit of alcohol to burn out of the blood.

Alcohol calculator: check the burning of alcohol in the THL alcohol calculator (Opens in a new window).

Driving with a hangover

Getting behind the wheel with a hangover has its risks. Amounts of alcohol can still be in the blood as well as nausea, fatigue or general ill feeling all affect a person’s ability to drive.

Preventing drink-driving

Key element in preventing driving under the influence is consistent and highly visible law enforcement supported by effective public education campaigns. The police conduct between 1.2 and 1.8 million breathalyser tests annually. About 20,000 drunk drivers are caught. A significant proportion of drunk drivers are caught as a result of driving behaviour mistakes, traffic accidents and violations.

Media campaigns influence the general attitude towards drink-driving and have achieved a positive change in attitudes especially among young people.

Young drivers at greater risk

Approximately 10 % of drunk drivers are aged 18–24. One third of the drivers of DUI accidents leading to personal injury are young.

Young driver’s driving skills haven’t yet automated through driving experience. Combined with a low tolerance for alcohol and peer pressure make young drivers at a higher risk to be involved in a drink-drive related collision also at low blood alcohol levels.

Of the drunk drivers that are caught, more than 60 % are heavy drinkers and a third have a diagnosed substance addiction. A lot of the drunk drivers are re-offenders. 

Alcohol interlock

An alcohol interlock, or alcolock, is a breathalyser device that will prevent the vehicle from starting if the alcohol level in air exhaled by the driver exceeds the permitted level. The alcolock activates when the vehicle is switched on and the driver has to give a breath sample. The device requires the driver to repeat the test at random intervals while driving.

A person permanently residing in Finland who has been guilty of drink-driving based on alcohol use and who is not subject to a driving ban for other reasons may be entitled to an alcohol interlock-controlled right to drive instead of an absolute driving ban. Read more about controlled driving rights. (Opens in a new window)

An alcolock prevents drink-driving effectively and it can also be used on a voluntary basis. It can be installed on almost all motorised vehicles, such as cars, tractors, motorcycles, buses or lorries. When the alcolock is in voluntary use, there is no requirement to carry out a modification inspection.

The alcolock’s log data can be viewed during maintenance.

The use of an alcolock and its settings are more free when used voluntarily than in the case of a controlled driving rights. Usually, the driver is required to give a breath sample only when starting the vehicle. There are also options like

  • the alcolock does not require a breath sample when starting, if the vehicle has been stopped for less than an hour, or 
  • a breath sample is required occasionally a few times a day. This is suitable for business use where several drivers drive the same vehicle during the day.

Acquiring and installing an alcolock?

An alcolock is installed by a licensed workshop. Information on the installation locations of alcolocks can also be found on the website of the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Opens in a new window). Depending on the model, an alcolock requires calibration maintenance every 6 months or one year.