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The History of DUI Enforcement

On September 10, 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi driver named George Smith became the first person ever arrested for drunk driving after slamming his cab into a building. Smith later pled guilty and was fined 25 shillings.

In the United States, the first laws against operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol went into effect in New York in 1910. This “DUI” law is now what is referred to as the old common law DUI (as opposed to the statutory DUI per se law now on the books in all states).

In 1936, Dr. Rolla Harger, a professor of biochemistry and toxicology, patented the Drunkometer, a balloon-like device into which people would breath to determine whether they were impaired.

In 1953, Robert Borkenstein, a former Indiana state police captain and university professor who had collaborated with Harger on the Drunkometer, invented the Breathalyzer. Easier-to-use and more accurate than the Drunkometer, the Breathalyzer was the first practical device and scientific test available to police officers to establish whether someone had too much to drink. A person would blow into the Breathalyzer and it would gauge the proportion of alcohol vapors in the exhaled breath, which reflected the level of alcohol in the blood.

Despite the invention of the Breathalyzer and other developments, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving increased and lawmakers, police and prosecutors across the country began to get tougher on offenders.

In the late 80's and early 90's, most states had started to use a new machine to test a suspected drunk driver's breath. At about the same time, Colorado adopted this new machine known as the " Intoxilyzer 5000." The Intox 5000 is manufactured by a Kentucky Company named CMI. Ironically, years ago CMI was founded in Aspen, Colorado and the acronym stands for " Colorado Medical Instruments" even though it is now based in Owensboro, Kentucky. To date, there are about 150 Intoxilyzer 5000's in use in the state of Colorado, and each one is actually owned and maintained by the Colorado Department of Health.

In 1975, the first extensive traffic and DUI studies were sponsored by NHTSA ( National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), and conducted through a contractor known as the Southern California Research Institute ( SCRI) to determine which roadside field sobriety tests were most accurate and could be easily standardized for officer use across the country.

After numerous (non-peer reviewed) studies, the SCRI concluded, and NHTSA adopted what is now known as the "3-test battery" which almost all police officers throughout the country are now trained on, and rely on to obtain roadside evidence against a suspected drunk driver. This 3-test battery is now known as "standardized field sobriety tests, or SFSTs. They include:

- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
- The 9 - Step Walk and Turn (WAT)
- The One Leg Stand (OLS)


Previous to the standardization of field sobriety tests, officers would devise and implement any subjective test they could think of on the side of a road. In fact, when Mr. Cessna went through his first police academy in 1987, the outdated manual he was given advised officers to take a handful of change out of their pockets and throw it on the ground to see how well the suspected drunk driver could pick it up! Hardly a scientific or objective scientific approach.

Today, the legal drinking age is 21 everywhere in the United States. And now more than ever police, prosecutors and the courts are adopting a zero tolerance approach drinking and driving. In fact, even first-time offenders face everything from jail time, to fines upwards of $1,500.00, and the loss of their driver's license of up to one full year.

These penalties do not take into consideration other such collateral consequences such as increased car insurance rates which can increase by thousands of dollars. And today most defendants are also ordered to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles, even before they are ever found guilty of a DUI in the criminal courts. These devices require a driver to install the device into any car they will be driving (even a company car), and then breath into a sensor before the car can be started. The car won't start if the driver's blood alcohol concentration is above a certain limit.

Because no politician was ever voted out of office for introducing tougher laws against drunk driving, nor has any elected district attorney ever won re-election by being lenient on drunk drivers, the laws and consequences for drinking and driving get tougher each year.

Among other such measures, in Colorado, legislators have recently introduced a bill to make it a felony for a person to be convicted of a third drinking and driving offense. To date the bill has yet to pass and become law.

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