Looking back: where did drunk driving laws originate?

Looking back: where did drunk driving laws originate?

We have previously written about Wisconsin’s tough drunk driving laws. And things are only going to get tougher as time goes on. In July of last year, Wisconsin enacted a new law increasing the punishments for DUI repeat offenders and first-time offenders with a BAC at or above 0.15 percent.

Since that time, thousands of ignition interlock devices have been mandatorily installed in the cars of those convicted. Considering current DUI laws, it is interesting to examine how laws have progressed.

According to researchers for the History Channel, tomorrow marks the 114th anniversary of the first drunk-driving arrest ever made. In 1897, a 25-year-old cab driver in London slammed his taxi into the side of a building. He was arrested and pled guilty to being drunk. His fine was a hefty 25 shillings.

It wasn’t until 1910 that drunk driving became illegal in the US. New York passed the first such law making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while drunk.

But how could police tell if you were drunk? In 1936, a man named Dr. Rolla Harger invented the “Drunkometer,” which was the precursor to the modern breathalyzer. It was described as a balloon-like device. Almost two decades later, in 1953, another doctor named Robert Borkenstein invented the breathalyzer closest to the ones we use today.

Enforcement of drunk driving laws did not become a high priority until the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to History Channel researchers. When Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded in 1980, the group was instrumental in changing public opinion and laws concerning drunk driving.

MADD successfully lobbied for tougher DUI laws and penalties, and even helped raise the minimum drinking age to 21 years old.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since that time, individual states have adopted their own variations on drunk driving laws and penalties, but all have consistently moved toward increased penalties and tougher laws.

Considering how vilified drunk driving has become in just the last three decades, it is especially important for those accused of the crime to seek legal help. A good criminal defense attorney can make sure you understand your rights and options.

Source: The History Channel, “Sep 10, 1897: First drunk driving arrest,” Sept. 9, 2011