Happy 111th Birthday DUI
By: Gerri Elder
On September 10, the first DUI arrest was made 111 years ago, according to the San Diego County DUI Law Center. George Smith, a London taxi driver, was the first person to be arrested for drunk driving after crashing his car into a building in 1897. Smith was charged with and plead guilty to driving under the influence and was fined 25 shillings.
History of DUI Laws in the United States
Thirteen years later, the United States passed the country's first DUI laws in New York in 1910. The first DUI laws only prohibited driving while intoxicated but never specified what intoxication meant. Originally, DUI laws established the blood alcohol content level at .15 percent.
In 1931, the Drunkometer was invented by Dr. Rolla Harger, a professor of biochemistry and toxicology. This balloon-like device, which was patented in 1936, was the first breath test to measure if people were intoxicated.
As technology advanced, so did the equipment to help determine whether a person was intoxicated. By 1953, Robert Borkenstein, who had worked with Harger on the Drunkometer, invented the Breathalyzer. This breath test was more accurate, giving police officers a more practical and scientific test to use to determine if someone was driving under the influence.
With the breathalyzer, a person would blow into it, and the equipment would read the proportion of alcohol vapors in the breath, which reflected the level of alcohol in the blood.
It wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that the government began to enforce stricter legal limits to stop the spread of driving under the influence and make the public more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. Advocate groups - Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drunk Driving - were developed by citizens to encourage government officials to continue to pass new DUI laws.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980 by Candy Lightner; her daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver while walking home from a school carnival. Even though the driver had previous DUI convictions and was out on bail for another hit-and-run DUI arrest just days before, there were no restrictions on his driving abilities. Lightner and her newly formed group worked hard to encourage legislation that increased the penalties for driving under the influence.
With pressure from the public, Congress lowered the legal BAC to .1 percent and then .08. The legal drinking age was also raised to 21 across the nation. If convicted of a DUI, offenders could face fines, jail time, suspension of their driver's license and installation of an ignition interlock device.