On September 10, 1897, a London taxi driver by the name of George Smith became the first person to ever be arrested for driving under the influence. The 25-year-old crashed his cab into the side of a building, presumably after leaving a pub where he might have had some fish and chips and a few too many pints of beer whist watching a game of football (soccer). Smith was charged 25 shillings after pleading guilty.
Thirteen years later, in 1910, New York became the first state to adopt laws against driving drunk. Subjectivity governed whether the person was “intoxicated” because there was no set definition on what it meant to be drunk. Early laws only required that the person be in a state of intoxication.
In attempting to develop a way to quantify levels intoxication, Dr. Rolla Harger developed the “Drunkometer.” In 1936, the Indiana University professor of biochemistry and toxicology patented the ancestor to today’s breathalyzer. Without going into the specifics of exactly how the contraption worked, it suffices to say that blood alcohol content was measured by having the suspect blow into a balloon. The alcohol in the breath would then react to chemicals located in an attached tube and a measurement would be made.
The Drunkometer paved the way for the use of an objective standard in determining how much alcohol someone could have in their systems while driving. In January, 1939, Indiana became the first state to pass a law that said it was illegal to drive with a specific BAC or above. The magic number way back in the day was 0.15 percent.
The amount of alcohol that someone can legally have in their system while driving has significantly decreased to nearly half of what it used to be. Public awareness on the dangers of driving drunk in addition to the formation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) in the late 70s and early 80s led to a shift in legislation regarding DUIs. Today in every state, you cannot drink with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content and the minimum age at which you can legally drink is 21.
Happy birthday, DUI! Make a wish and blow out the 115 candles on your birthday cake!