When Did Drunk Driving Become Illegal?

It might be surprising, but the United States did not always have laws on the books making it illegal to drink and drive. And even when states did first begin adopting these laws, they were lax when enforcing them. Drunk driving fatalities and injuries were so serious that a group of parents formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980 to help bring public awareness to this issue.

Today, Colorado like other states takes drunk driving very seriously. If an officer suspects a person is intoxicated, he can stop them and ask them to take a field sobriety test. A driver might also have to blow into a breathalyzer or take a blood test, which measures the motorist’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Those who are intoxicated can be charged with Driving Under the Influence and, if someone was injured in the crash, for other crimes. The experienced lawyers at Cimarron Ridge Legal Group will help you if you’ve been injured.

New York Passed the First Law Against Drunk Driving

According to Safewise, New York was the first state to criminalize drunk driving in 1910. (Other sources identify New Jersey as the first state, in 1906). Of course, criminalizing drunk driving happened in the context of Prohibition, which was a drive to criminalize the production, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition culminated in the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed alcoholic beverages across the country.

However, the 18th Amendment was promptly repealed by the 21st in 1933. Nevertheless, it was during Prohibition that states began to criminalize drunk driving.

Safewise notes that the laws against drunk driving did not appear earlier because there was no mass production of vehicles before roughly 1910. However, we should have expected laws against operating a horse and buggy while intoxicated.

A History of DUI Legal Limits

The first laws against drunk driving did not set a BAC that would render a person legally intoxicated. There was a simple reason—the technology did not exist for easily measuring the amount of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream.

The first instrument was the Drunkometer, patented in 1936. A motorist would breathe into a gadget shaped like a balloon, which mixed the air with a chemical solution. If the device showed a certain color, then the driver was intoxicated. What we now recognize as the breathalyzer was created in 1953 by Robert Borkenstein, a police captain.

Without a way to measure someone’s BAC, states left it up to each arresting officer to determine whether the driver was intoxicated. This is the “catch-all” provision that all states, including Colorado, still have. The catch-all provision allows the state to convict a person with a BAC under 0.08 if they are not able to drive a vehicle safely.

The Legal Limit Used to Be Higher

Currently, the legal limit for DUI is 0.08% for those who are 21 and older. If you are over this amount, you are deemed intoxicated per se, even if you can safely operate a vehicle. Interestingly, the legal limit didn’t use to be this low. Instead, the first limits established were 0.15%, almost double the current limit.

Why the change? Well, the federal government got involved. In 1998, Congress created an incentive grant to get states to lower their BAC to 0.08%. In 2000, this became the national legal limit.

Of course, states can still set an even lower limit. Utah, for example, has recently passed a law reducing their legal limit to 0.05%, which would be the lowest in the nation. Other states might follow suit if they believe lowering the limit will help reduce the number of drunk driving accidents and fatalities. In 2013, the federal National Transportation Safety Board recommended that every state lower their legal limit to 0.05%.

Drunk Driving is a Problem in Colorado

Colorado is not exempt from the scourge that is drunk driving. According to traffic safety statistics kept by the Colorado State Patrol, 2017 saw 504 DUI fatal and injury crashes within our state. There was also a total of 3,018 proactive DUI citations and 1.413 reactive DUI citations. The number of proactive citations represents a slight increase over prior years.

Injured by a Drunk Driver? Speak to An Experienced Grand Junction Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today

Drunk drivers cause considerable damage to Colorado’s roads, so you are not alone if you have been injured by someone who has had too much to drink. At Cimarron Ridge Legal Group, we represent injured motorists who need compensation for their injuries.

After a crash, please contact us today. We will meet with you to discuss your injuries and what kind of compensation you can request. Please contact us today.