The sun is up. The beach was great and the meal at that tiny beach-side bar was amazing. So was that small glass of Uruguayan tannat wine. Now time to jump in the car for that five-minute ride back to the hotel.
Then… BAM! It’s the police. They hand you a breathalyser. And yes, you only had the one glass, one tiny glass, but this is Uruguay and there is zero alcohol tolerance for drivers.
What happens next?
The police take your licence on the spot. And you’ll be fined the equivalent of 500 dollars.
In addition, you won’t be allowed to drive for the rest of your time in Uruguay, unless you’re staying for longer than six months that is!
But worse is to come, if you are from the USA or the UK.
US nationals can only get their licence back once they get back home. And they will be slapped with the corresponding penalties for a drink-driving offence back in the US.
Brits will have their licences sent to the Embassy which in turn then sends the licence to the DVLA in the UK. According to official sources, it’s likely that the licence would not be returned to you once you are home, but that you would have to request a replacement (and explained why).
Other nationals will find their licences are sent to their Uruguayan consulate. Argentinians are luckier as they have a consulate in Punta del Este (serving Maldonado and Rocha) as well as Montevideo. Most people will have to go to Montevideo.
Additional word of warning: No bribes
Perhaps contrary to your experience in other Latin American countries, do not try to bribe the Uruguayan police.
This is likely to get you into more trouble than you are already in.
So no drinking and driving in Uruguay
According to the Uruguayan paper, El Observador, in the first three days of 2017, police tested 300 drivers for alcohol in beach resorts including Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio. Seventy tested positive.
None of them were seriously drunk, and the highest levels of alcohol were at the limit that is legal in most countries (0.08). They all had their licences confiscated.
So… if you are going to drive here, forget the one for the road. Really. Not even a sip.
And what the hell. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Uruguay. Go by bike. Or you just got another good reason to splash out on that beach-side cabaña you really wanted to stay at anyway. 🙂
This article is based on information in “Tourists taken by surprise by relentless zero tolerance” by El Observador [in Spanish]
[Updated: February 9 2017, with information regarding British drivers]