The History of Drunk Driving Laws in the US

The History of Drunk Driving Laws in the US
The vast majority of people in the United States have never lived in a time without laws against driving under the influence (DUI). Drunk or drugged driving is illegal throughout the country and has harsh penalties, especially in Arizona. However, these laws have not always existed and instead have developed over time. There have been developments in our understanding of how intoxication affects driving and various advocacy groups have influenced changes in these laws. Here is a brief history of drunk driving laws in the US:

The First DUI Laws in the United States

New York was the first state to institute a law against drunk driving. They did so in 1910. Other states followed suit shortly after, including California. These early laws prohibited the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated but did not define intoxication. Police would often use roadside tests to determine if a driver was drunk, but the results were subjective and it made enforcing these laws difficult.

Measuring Intoxication

The first device to measure intoxication was similar to a balloon. People would breathe into this device and the breath would react with a liquid that would change color if the person had too much to drink. Dr. Rolla Harger patented this device in 1936 and called it the "Drunkometer." The first official use of this device during an arrest was in 1937 in Indiana. Shortly after this, in 1938, the first BAC limits were put into place. At this time, the legal limit was 0.15%. This is almost twice as much as the legal limit today. The 0.15% limit was decided based on research from the National Safety Council (NSC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) on how intoxication affects safety while driving. In 1953, Robert Borkenstein invented a more accurate device to measure alcohol concentration via a breath sample. This device is known as the Breathalyzer. It uses photometry and chemical oxidation to measure the alcohol vapors in a person's breath and converts this into BAC.

Advocacy Groups and BAC Limit Decrease

One of the major reasons DUI laws became tougher was due to the efforts of advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Candy Lightner founded this group in 1980 after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. The group fought for stricter laws across the country and pushed for the raising of the legal drinking age to 21. In 2000, Congress adopted a nationwide legal limit of 0.08% for BAC while driving.

DUI Today

Today, you will face severe penalties if a court convicts you of DUI. In Arizona, these include jail time, steep fines, and installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.

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