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When Did the First DUI Charge Occur in the United States?

Written by Moses & Rooth Attorneys at Law on May 9, 2018

Drunk driving has been around as long as there have been cars. In the early morning hours of September 10, 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi cab driver named George Smith was charged by local police with “being drunk when in charge of a motor car.” A constable observed Smith operating a “four-wheeled electric cab,” when he suddenly “swerved from one side of the road to the other, and ran across the footway into 165, New Bond-street, breaking the water-pipe and the beading of the window,” according to a contemporary report in the London Morning Post.

A Brief History of DUI Laws

As far as anyone knows, Smith was the first person ever charged with a DUI in any country. But it would take another 13 years before the first DUI laws were adopted in the United States. In 1910, the New York legislature became the first to prohibit “driving while intoxicated.” It is not clear who the first person charged under that law was.

Keep in mind, in 1910 it was not possible for police officers to chemically test the alcohol content of a driver’s blood. And even if such a test existed, the original DUI laws did not establish a specific threshold for intoxication. It was therefore left to the discretion of individual officers to determine when a DUI charge was warranted.

It was not until 1936 that the forerunner of the modern Breathalyzer–known as the “Drunkometer”–was patented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger, a professor of biochemistry at Indiana University. Two years later, in 1938, Harger was part of a National Safety Council committee that, together with the American Medical Association, recommended states adopt a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content (BAC) as the standard for DUI. Most states quickly followed this advice.

But by the 1980s, there was increased public and media attention paid to DUI accidents. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which formed in 1980, pushed for the adoption of a stricter DWI standard of 0.08 percent. Today all states have a 0.08 standard for drunk drivers over the age of 21. And many states, including Florida, have a “zero-tolerance” standard for drivers under the age of 21, meaning they can be charged with DUI if their BAC is as low as 0.02 percent.

Taking Drunk Driving Seriously in Florida

Despite more than a century of data regarding the harms of drunk driving, alcohol impairment remains a significant cause of accidents and fatalities in Florida. According to a 2015 fact sheet published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 8,500 people were killed “in crashes involving a drunk driver” in Florida between 2003 and 2012. Indeed, Florida’s drunk-driving death rate is about 12 percent higher than the national average for that same period.

This is why Orlando-area law enforcement and prosecutors take drunk driving cases extremely seriously. If you are charged with a DUI, even for the first time, do not assume the law will go easy on you. It is imperative you work with a qualified Orlando drunk driving defense lawyer. Contact Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at (407) 377-0150 if you need to speak with a lawyer today.

Posted Under: Drunk Driving, DUI

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