How to Drink like an Icelander

drink like an icelander

Iceland is the one Western country that shares with the United States years of prohibition in the 20th Century. Since those days, both countries have resumed drinking with full gusto. However, unlike the US, DUI’s in Iceland are some of the lowest in the world, even though most people own a car.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

Iceland was the first to institute prohibition, dating back to 1915. The original ban was for all alcoholic drinks. Then, in 1921, Spain refused to buy fish from Iceland (their main export) unless the ban was partially lifted and they could trade back Spanish wines. In 1935, Iceland’s parliament legalized spirits or hard liquor, however the ban on beer remained for many years and finally legalized on March 1, 1989. March 1st is now celebrated annually by Icelanders as Beer Day.

In the US, prohibition didn’t last nearly as long. It began in 1920 with the passing of the 18th Amendment after tremendous pressure from temperance groups and state legislatures. But people quickly tired of not having a way to take the edge off and state governments couldn’t keep up with enforcement. After a mere 13 failed years to curb America’s thirst for alcohol, the 18th Amendment was superseded by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Tough laws

With history so similar, why are Iceland’s drunk driving rates so much lower? One clue might be Iceland’s strict laws when it comes to drunk driving. In the past, the laws were so strict that a first offense carried a lifetime ban from driving and an alcohol influenced vehicular manslaughter charge had a mandatory lengthy prison sentence and the definition of DUI was held at a strict .05% BAC.

Today, .05% is still the measure of DUI but other laws have softened somewhat. Fines and suspensions for a first time offense for example, are more similar to the US even though enforcement is still more strict. Breathalyzer tests are mandatory after an arrest and can even be administered by force if necessary.

Drink hard yet smart

Laws aside, one of the reasons Icelanders have such a low rate of DUI is the way they drink; or better said, the way they start to drink.

As a culture, Icelanders are realists and very pragmatic. They have had to be. They wage a daily war against nature. All of their comfortable, modern homes and buildings are earthquake resistant and hurricane proof. Why take any chances? They dress in layers to deal with the ever-changing weather and temperatures. As a nation of chess masters, logic rules their strategy to any problem.

Icelanders approach drinking with the same dispassionate reason they apply to any aspect of life. They don’t rationalize. They love to drink to excess and they know it. They accept they will be unable to drive home after drinking. Why take any chances? Before they even take the first sip, they call a cab and arrange for a pick up time. (Reykjavik seems to have an endless supply of taxis with several 24-hour companies) And if you don’t want to take a cab, Reykjavik’s bus system can take you anywhere in the metropolitan area. Designated drivers are identified early in the evening and will only get served non-alcoholic beverages.

What can the US learn from Iceland?

It would be unfair to expect the US to adopt all of the drinking behaviors of a single culture, considering the diverse backgrounds of the US population. However, if we were to focus on one way to drink like an Icelander it would be to plan.

• If you expect to drink a lot, plan for your ride home. Don’t assume you can get sober enough to drive.
• If you are going to have a drink with a friend, plan to cut yourself off.
• If you are going to drive after one or two drinks, plan on what you are going to say and do during the DUI investigation that may ensue if you get pulled over.
• If you are going to drink, Plan to always have the phone number of your DUI attorney handy.
• And you may just want to plan to have a beer on March 1, in celebration of Iceland’s national Beer Day.

The experiment of prohibition in Iceland and the US show us that alcohol will probably never go away. However, Iceland has showed that by taking some responsibility and planning, incidents of DUI doesn’t have to go hand in hand with a drinking society.

This post was submitted by a guest writer. This may or may not reflect the ideas or opinions of the attorneys of Action Legal Group.

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