It is possible that people have been drinking some sort of fermented or alcoholic beverage throughout all of time. Certainly, inebriation is seen as a normal occurrence in human life. When it comes to drinking and driving, though, we see that a little inebriation can do a lot of damage. How societies have handled drunken behaviors has changed over time and the history of drinking and driving is a rather interesting one.
The first arrest for drinking and driving occurred in London, England. In 1897, an intoxicated taxi driver named George Smith lost control of his cab and it slammed into a building. He pled guilty and was fined for the offense. While this was the first arrest on record, it certainly was not the last. Every year, thousands of people are arrested and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). How did we get from that first arrest to thousands of convictions each year?
In 1910, New York was the first state in the United States of America to pass a law against driving drunk. California soon followed. These initial laws forbid citizens of operating a vehicle while inebriated, but there was no consensus on what constituted inebriation. In the 1930s, the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council set up task forces to help make roads safer in the United States. Those task forces performed studies showing that a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 percent or higher meant a driver was too inebriated to operate a motor vehicle and this became the first legal drinking limit used commonly in the United States. Today’s BAC limit stands at .08.
Those legal blood alcohol limits were in place by 1938, two (2) years after the Drunkometer was patented. The Drunkometer was a balloon-like device that used a person’s breath to determine inebriation. It was a decent device, but not incredibly accurate. In 1953, one of the collaborators for the Drunkometer invented the Breathalyzer. The Breathalyzer was similar to the Drunkometer, but more accurate, and it became the first practical device police officers could use for the purpose of testing BAC. It is still in use today.
In the 1970s, laws against and penalties for drinking and driving began to get stricter. A mother who lost her child to a drunk driver formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in the 1980s and the history of drinking and driving has never been the same. Due to pressures from groups like MADD and SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving), stricter laws were passed and the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 across the nation. The legal BAC limit also decreased during this time from .15 percent to .10 percent.
The history of drinking and driving has been an interesting journey heavily influenced by the actions of a few people. As time goes on, less tolerance is given for drinking and driving. Maybe one day drinking and driving will be something we only read about in history books.