History Of DUI – How Driving Under The Influence Became Illegal In The US

Despite what many people think today, driving under the influence of alcohol has been against the law since people began driving cars with the first DUI arrest occurring in 1897. However, the fines for these offenses were lighter then and the driver often got away with a warning and paying a small ticket. An example of DUI laws is found in the film “North By Northwest” starring Cary Grant. In the film, made in the late 1950s, an intoxicated Grant crashes his car into a police car, is told to sleep it off in his jail cell and pays a $2 fine the next day. In the film, the character is asked to undergo an alcohol testing by a doctor through the use of a breathalyzer test, which was invented in 1953 and still used today.

Breath Alcohol Testing Kit

Drinking and driving was considered an offense to the point where the driver was routinely ticketed and let go up until the 1970s. At this time, people became more aware of the fact that many drunk drivers were causing fatal accidents. In the late 1970s, a law was passed that increased the fines on drunk drivers. Driving While Intoxicated was a DWI and incurred more than just a simple ticket. A heavy fine was imposed on those who were convicted of a DWI. The standard alcohol testing done to determine if a driver was intoxicated was using the breathalyzer test. Prior to the DWI laws, police officers would often test drivers by asking them to walk a straight line, stand on one foot, etc.

In 1980, after her 13 year old daughter was killed by a man who had three previous convictions for drunken driving, Candy Lightner founded the group MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This group managed to change the attitude of the public regarding the dangers of drinking and driving and pushed for stricter legislation regarding driving under the influence.

Throughout the 1980s, MADD was responsible for helping pass legislation that made it a criminal offense, not just a traffic offense, to drive under the influence of alcohol as well as drugs. The charge for this offense was changed to DUI, which means “driving under the influence.” While many people think that a DUI is issued for drunk drivers, it also applies to anyone driving under the influence of drugs.

Over the years, the laws for drunk driving became stricter with some states allowing for roadblocks and check points to test for drunk drivers, despite protests of civil rights activists which state that this violates due cause. While police still have to have due cause to pull over a driver they suspect is under the influence, many states allow roadblocks and checkpoints by police.

Testing for alcohol in a DUI is done on the spot by using the breathalyzer test that measures the amount of alcohol in the vapors of the breath. Recent improvements in this product can accurately measure the amount of alcohol a person has in their system. In the case of an accident, a blood test is administered to test for alcohol or drugs in the system.

Today, a DUI is a criminal felony offense punishable by a possible jail time.  Drivers can refuse to take any sort of testing if they are pulled over but in most states, they lose their license for a year if they refuse to be tested for alcohol. In many states, those who have been convicted of a DUI for the first time must install a device in their car that they must blow into before starting the car.  If they have alcohol in their breath vapor, the car will not start.

Drivers who are under the influence and cause a fatal accident now run the risk of being charged with vehicular homicide that can carry a heavy prison term. No longer does someone get away with “sleeping it off” and paying a $2 fine when they are found guilty of drinking and driving in the US.

Lena Butler

My name is Lena Butler. I live in San Diego, California. I work as a customer service representative for TestCountry.com. I attended the University of San Diego and majored in marketing. I enjoy spending time at home, working on my painting and playing with my two pet rabbits, Carl and Lenny, when I am not here sharing interesting posts :)

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3 comments to History Of DUI – How Driving Under The Influence Became Illegal In The US

  • Bob

    “and pays a $2 fine the next day.

    In the film “North by Northwest”, his mother say ‘pay the two dollars’

    It was an expression at the time, and exclamation toward someone too cheap to pay a fine and move on. Even Wilma Flintstone used that expression.

    It wasn’t a literal amount

  • […] in many nations, including the United States. Studies indicate that there has been a decline in fatal drunk driving accidents since the drinking age was raised to 21. Critics of the drinking laws in the United […]

  • Peter Piper

    This article needs to have some corrections. The author is under the mistaken impression that two dollars was the amount of a fine for drinking and driving in the late 50s. This is incorrect.

    The first commenter is correct: “Pay the Two Dollars” was an expression (used by Cary Grant’s character’s mother in the film) that meant that someone should stop being cheap and just pay up. It does not literally mean a two dollar fine. A simple internet search will confirm this.

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