The History of DUI Laws in America

History of Drunk Driving Laws

As our nation has evolved, so has the formation and evolution of various laws and regulations. Driving under the influence (DUI) laws is no exception to this truth. Throughout the United States, each state is allowed to create, pass, and enforce their own DUI laws. A DUI will not only affect your driving record, it will comes with criminal and financial penalties as well.

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When Did Drinking and Driving Become Illegal?

Drinking and driving first became outlawed in 1910 in the state of New York. California was the next state to legislate drinking and driving, and they passed a law specifically making driving under the influence of alcohol illegal.

Once these two states took this initiative, all of the states that fell between their borders were quick to pass their own legislation as well.

DUI Laws in the 1910s

While the states rallied to pass laws against drinking and driving, the laws tended to be fairly general in concept and there were no clear definitions of what exactly “drunk driving” was. Today, each state has different levels of driving under the influence, with different criminal and financial repercussions for each.

DUI Laws in the 1930s

Around the 1930s, road safety became an area of concern nationally and two major national organizations undertook causes and studies to boost safer travel on the roads throughout the United States.

The American Medical Association put together a task force that studied the factors that were most likely to result in auto accidents or injuries from automobiles. In the meantime, the National Safety Council began to research and develop criteria that were intended to both test for intoxication as well as to measure the level of intoxication that a person was under.

The end-result of these co-existing panels was that a national standard was set regarding inebriation levels and drunk driving. In 1938, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was set. These two organizations suggested that a driver with a BAC of .15 or more could safely be assumed to be drunk, while anyone with less than that was not.

DUI Laws in the 1970s

During the 1970s, as it became more and more common for individuals to own cars, drunk driving laws began to change, both adding levels of intoxication to laws and making the laws regarding drunk driving more strict. During this time period, DUI laws changed greatly, and the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 throughout the United States.

Focus on drunk driving laws made enforcement of these laws critical nationwide and led to a change in the legal limit from .15 to .10 in the 1980s. During the 1990s, the legal limit was once again lowered, this time to .08 BAC.

Modern American DUI Laws

Since the ‘90s, most states have created stricter laws regarding DUI and drunk driving offenses, including the adoption of what is called “Zero Tolerance” laws, meaning that minors who were found to have any level of alcohol in their blood were automatically charged with a DUI.

Nationally-prominent organizations formed to combat drinking and driving have held strong power within the legal make-up and enforcement of DUI and drunk driving laws throughout the United States, and continue to play a role in keeping the issue on the forefront of importance with regard to police departments and legislation.