What Can Florida Learn From Sweden's DUI Laws?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden,None — The sometimes lenient treatment of DUI suspects has victims' families in Central Florida demanding changes. It's already happening in Sweden, which is home to the toughest drunk driving laws in the world.

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There have been 26 fatal drunk driving crashes in Orange County in 2010 and there could be more. Troopers are still waiting on toxicology tests on dozens of other crashes.

WFTV sent reporter Eric Rasmussen to Sweden, which has some of the toughest DUI laws in the world. The tough laws against drinking and driving seem to be a matter of national pride. Sweden lowered its legal limit from .05 to .02 twenty years ago and they're seeing results.

The question is: Could those laws work in the United States?

The fines for drunk driving in Sweden can depend on how much money you have in the bank. One Swedish official told Rasmussen about a woman who had to pay more than $21,000.

The legal driving limit in Sweden is .02. If you break the law more than once, your name, your face and your car goes into a database so police can stop you at anytime. If you're on Swedish police officer Ursula Eriksson's list, you're already in serious trouble.

Eriksson is part of a special team that goes after habitual offenders, working tips from other cops, even citizens who call to report drunk drivers.

"And I will take my police car and I will go pull up outside your house and when you are taking your car keys to go out driving, and when you look out your window and you see a police car, would you drive then?" Officer Eriksson questioned.

The goal is to stop the same kind of repeat drunk drivers in Central Florida, who only faced serious punishment after hitting and killing someone. While drinking and driving in Sweden can get you sent to jail, police on the special team say they, many times, offer offenders a ride to the hospital.

Even if the jail cells in Sweden look like something out of IKEA, Swedish officials say mandatory treatment is often the better sentence.

"You have to take medical tests and that shows you don't have a problem any more with drinking," Eriksson said.

Like Florida, certain offenders can qualify to have alcohol interlock devices installed in their cars for one or two years, but counseling and medical tests are still required.

"Does anybody in Sweden think this is an invasion of privacy?" Rasmussen asked.

"We haven't had that reaction," Eriksson said.

For those who continue to break the law, police say they have other ways to stop them from driving.

"If we stop a repeat offender, we can seize his car. It will be forfeited. He'll lose his right to the car. It'll be sold or scrapped," Eriksson said.

"So the car's gone forever?" Rasmussen asked.

"Yeah," Eriksson said.

Eriksson has visited Florida, but it was its legal limit of .08 that seemed most foreign to her.

"I can't understand how a country like yours can have such a high level. It's out of my mind. I can't believe it," she said.

WFTV found parties in full-swing at nightclubs and bars in downtown Stockholm. But when it was time to go home, few of the people were getting behind the wheel.

"Never done that myself and would never allow anybody," one Swedish clubgoer told WFTV.

Some who have visited the U.S. said they noticed the difference.

"You're supposed to be able to drink two or three beers or something and drive. In Sweden it's one beer and you can't drive," one person said.

It appears to be paying off. Swedish officials estimate less than one percent of the drivers on the road are under the influence of alcohol. In Florida, in 2008, 35 percent of all fatal crashes were alcohol-related. In Sweden, the number is between 15 and 25 percent; drunk-driving deaths have dropped from 471 in 2007 to just over 300 in 2010.

"We think we still have a long way to go," said Claes Tingvall of the Swedish Transport Administration.

Tingvall, a leading policy maker in Sweden, insists his country can still reduce drunk-driving deaths even further. But he thinks the key to improvements in the U.S. isn't just a lower legal limit and more checkpoints. In Sweden, there is a social penalty for drinking and driving.

"You are in deep trouble, socially and in your workplace and sort of in your family and things like that," he said. "I think that is an important part of the way you view alcohol, that it is not something sort of relative, it is absolute."

Stopping drunk-driving isn't just up to police in Sweden. Some restaurants and bars give free non-alcoholic drinks to designated drivers.

While there is no comprehensive Swedish bill in the Florida Legislature, things have been moving in that direction.

Previous Stories: November 15, 2010: Part 1: Should Florida Look To Sweden For DUI Laws?

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