History of DUI Laws

Across the nation, every state has rules concerning drinking and driving. Whether it is referred to as DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated), or OUI (operating under the influence), the penalties are still very serious for this offense.

DUI Laws
In 1910, the first state to adopt drunk-driving laws was New York. California was the next state to pass driving under the influence laws, and the other 48 states soon followed suit.

These early DUI laws simply stated that a driver could not operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. However, inebriation was not clearly defined by the lawmakers and courts at this point.

In the 1930s, two committees were tasked with making roads safer in the U.S. The American Medical Association created a committee to study the most common problems that lead to vehicle accidents. During this same time period, the National Safety Council set up a study to develop tests that could be used to determine intoxication. After doing research, the two groups determined that a driver with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher could be presumed to be inebriated, while a driver with a BAC under 0.15 could not.

As a result of the committee’s findings, 0.15 percent became the first commonly-used legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in 1938.

DUI laws and penalties began getting stricter in the 1970s. This is mainly due to groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Candy Lightner was also a leader in the fight for tougher DUI laws.

The pressure from these groups led to many changes in DUI laws, most notably raising the legal drinking age to 21 years old in all 50 states. These groups also changed the way laws were enforced by police departments – until this time, enforcing drunk-driving laws was not a priority.

The legal limit was affected during this time. Originally 0.15 percent, it was later lowered to .10 percent. Due to federal pressure on all of the states, this limit was then further reduced to 0.08 percent.

Zero Tolerance laws were also adopted by many states. These laws make it illegal for minors under the age of 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.01 or 0.02 percent.

Automatic license suspension laws were also passed across the nation. These laws allow for an administrative license suspension after failing a breath test or refusing to take the breath test altogether.