Drunk Driving History 101

drunk history drinking and drivingWith all of the publicity drunk driving receives right now on social media, the web, via public service announcements, and from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), it’s easy to forget that the fight against drunk driving has been going on for over a century.

Here’s a quick look at drunk driving history:

London, 1897

One night in 1897, a man named George Smith was driving his taxicab. That night he’d had one too many at the local pub and he crashed into a building. At the time it may not have seemed like a big deal that he was arrested for drunk driving and fined 25 shillings, but his name lives on in infamy 119 years later as the first person on record to be charged with drunk driving.

New York, 1910

Not long after George’s fateful night in London, New York became the first state to adopt drunk driving laws. There was no way to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at that point, so the law only stated that a driver could not operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. How drunk you had to be to receive a charge wasn’t defined.

United States, 1930’s

The first task committees were set up to make roads safer in the United States, and they sat down to study what type of problems caused vehicle crashes and how exactly someone could create a measurement for intoxication. Together they decided that a driver with a BAC of .15 percent or higher would be intoxicated and a driver under .15 would not.

Indiana, 1938

Rolla Harger, an Indiana University professor, decided to tackle the problem of measuring a person’s blood alcohol concentration. He invented the first breathalyzer, the Drunk-o-Meter, in 1938. It measured someone’s BAC after they blew into a balloon. The air from the balloon was released into a chemical solution, and if the solution changed color, they had alcohol on their breath.

Indiana, 1954

A colleague of Professor Harger, Robert Borkenstein, took Harger’s design and improved it. He created the design for the breathalyzer, a device that’s been updated over the years but is still in use today.

United States, 1970’s to 1980’s

A 9-year-old boy named Craig D. La Londe invented the first ignition interlock in the early 1970’s. He invented it after a drunk driver killed his father and 3-year-old brother, and he named it a Breath Interlock Device.

MADDBefore the 70’s, the general public really didn’t have a clue that drunk driving was so dangerous. That’s when police officers began to crack down and drunk driving laws changed. The 80’s were also when Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving after her 13 year old daughter was struck and killed by a repeat drunk driver. The drier had just been released on bail after he was involved in a hit and run 2 days before.

Fast forward to today: DUI laws are more strict, penalties are harsher, and repeat offenders aren’t treated lightly. Technology has evolved, and now breathalyzers and ignition interlocks use fuel cell technology for the most accurate results.

Although lawmakers, public groups, and police are still battling against drunk driving, when you look back at drunk driving history and see how things have changed, it gives you hope that someday people will just stop drinking and driving.


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