Drunk driving and our awareness around it have an interesting history in the United States. The first modern automobile was invented in 1886, but it took almost thirty years for states to begin adopting laws against drinking and driving. In fact, New York for the first to do so in 1910, but many years would go by before a concensus was reached concerning how much alcohol was too much when it came to operating motor vehicles. Driving under the influence (DUI) trivia is interesting and tells the story of how far the United States has come.
In 1910, New York enacted the first DUI law, but it only went so far. Because there were no devices to help calculate intoxication, the early DUI laws simply prohibited driving while intoxicated. It wasn’t until 1936 that a professor of toxicology and biochemistry patented an invention to help compute intoxication. Dr. Harger worked at Indiana University and his device, the Drunkometer, used a chemical solution to determine intoxication. The suspected person would breathe into the balloon-like Drunkometer and the color of the air, after adding a specific chemical, helped determine how intoxicated the person was.
As far as DUI trivia is concerned, this was a major development. This Drunkometer is the clear predecessor to today’s breathalyzer-type devices. Also, Dr. Harger’s invention helped usher in blood alcohol content (BAC) laws. Two years after the Drunkometer was patented, the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council had conducted enough research to support a BAC legal limit of .15. This legal limit was commonly used throughout the country from 1938 to 1998.
1998 marked the beginning of a change in the BAC legal limits due to a federal grant that encouraged states to lower their limits to .08. In 2000, Congress adopted the .08 BAC legal limit and that is the limit in all states today. In a different sort of DUI trivia, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was started in 1980 and the organization had a phenomenal affect upon public opinion with regard to drunk driving. MADD was a powerful force behind getting the BAC legal limits changed, as well as raising the legal drinking age to 21.
While it may seem that the United States is slow-moving on issues like changing the BAC legal limits for drunk driving, there is some debate now as to whether or not the country should lower the limit, again. While .08 is the legal limit in our nation, many other countries have a .05 legal limit and better statistics around the subject of drunk driving. Perhaps in another thirty or so years, we will add another legal limit change to our DUI trivia.