History of the DUI

by: Mike Miller

As a counselor both classroom and online alcohol awareness classes one subject that invariably comes up is the history of the infraction of driving under the influence, known better as DUI. This is one issue where almost all of the statistics raised are fairly current. This article will address the history of the DUI penalty and hopefully make you look at the infraction from a different vantage point.

Those Darn Cabbies!

The first DUI person ever arrested for drunken driving was a 25-year-old London cab driver named George Smith. What year do you think this happened? The year was 1897, twelve years before Henry Ford invented the Model-T! Smith was arrested after crashing his cab into an office building. His punishment for a guilty plea – 25 shillings. That’s about 90 British Pounds today.

New York Drivers

The first DUI laws enacted in the United States were of course in New York. Last year New York celebrated their 100th Anniversary of the first DUI arrest. New Yorkers have had a reputation for their driving for more than a century!

Technology Paves the Way

Obviously the early DUI arrests were based on laws that absolutely prohibited operating a vehicle under the influence of any alcohol. They had no way to measure BAC at the time.

All that changed in 1936 with the invention of the “Drunkometer”. This was a balloon-like device that people blew into to determine their level of inebriation. It was a surprisingly accurate device – when calibrated properly.

Seventeen years later one of the inventors of the Drunkometer designed a more user-friendly device called the breathalyzer. Yes, the same device, more or less, that we still use almost 60 years later!

DUI Revved up by the 1970s

The first real attempts to establish DUI laws took place in the “Age of Freedom” – the 1970s.  Armed with the technology to measure BAC and active social groups, the dangers of drinking and driving took front and center stage.  In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded and its efforts, combined with Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) continued to efforts to educate Congress and the public on the dangers of driving after consuming alcohol.

DUI Still A Problem

While DUI is still a major problem in society, it is not for lack of publicity. It is estimated that almost 2 million Americans will be cited in 2011 for DUI. The word is getting out there. Courts in addition to fines and punishment are also doing what the system was originally designed for – correctional and rehabilitation purposes.

Most courts make even first-time offenders the opportunity to take an alcohol awareness class.  With knowledge comes power, and the obvious goal is to educate drivers so that they stop their DUI behavior.

Hopefully, through technology and educational programs we can turn the tide and curb this problem. Remember that alcohol is a drug, and a dangerous one at that. If you or anyone you know has exhibited DUI behavior, I urge you to seek help as soon as possible. There are support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, and if you prefer to maintain your anonymity there are online alcohol awareness courses as well.