It's Been 120 Years Since The First DUI Arrest

Posted by Richard Lawson | Oct 16, 2017 | 0 Comments

People have been making the unfortunate decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated for nearly as long as cars have been in existence. In fact, 2017 marks the 120th year since the very first person was arrested for drunk driving. This arrest occurred in London, England on September 10, 1897.

According to the British Newspaper Archive, an article from the Morning Post reported that a cab driver by the name of George Smith was arrested in the early morning hours after he lost control of his car. The paper reported that the 25-year old Smith was driving a “four-wheeled electric cab” when he was observed by Police Constable Russell. The officer watched as Smith's cab “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.” Russell went over to check on the driver of the vehicle and upon discovering that Smith was intoxicated, took him to a police station.

At the station, Smith “denied being drunk, and the divisional surgeon was sent for, who certified that he was drunk.” According to the article, at court, Smith was questioned about his driving while drunk. Smith stated that he had consumed “two to three glasses of beer.” He stated, “It is the first time I have been charged with being drunk in charge of a cab.” The man in charge of the proceeding, Mr. De Rutzen, questioned this, stating that the convictions that had been sent over from Scotland Yard showed he had been previously charged with being drunk.

Smith answered, “Yes, but that was not when in charge of a cab.” De Rutzen replied, “You motor-car drivers ought to be very careful, for if anything happens to you–well, the police have a very happy knack of stopping a runaway horse, but to stop a motor is a very different thing.” He then fined Smith 20 shillings for the offense.

Drinking and driving laws have evolved considerably since that first arrest. In the United States, one of the first states to adopt a law that banned driving while under the influence was New Jersey in 1906. While early DUI laws “made it illegal to drive while intoxicated,” the laws “did not provide a statistical definition of intoxication.” It wasn't until 1939 that a state defined a presumptive level of intoxication. That year, Indiana enacted a law that defined “presumptive intoxication” as having a BAC of 0.15%. Other states soon adopted similar legislation. Over the years, this level was lowered to the present presumptive level that has been adopted in most states: a BAC of 0.08%.

The penalty for a DUI has also evolved considerably since 1897 London. For example, in Georgia, the statutory penalty for a First DUI is much more severe than a 20 shilling fine. Instead, a driver convicted of this offense can face up to one year behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000. If you have been charged with driving under the influence in Georgia, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia DUI attorney, Richard Lawson, today.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Richard S. Lawson is passionate about intoxicated driving defense. Unlike some attorneys, Mr. Lawson devotes 100% of his legal practice to helping people stand up for their rights against DUI charges. For more than 20 years, Mr. Lawson has dutifully fought for his clients' freedom, resolving more 4,900 impaired driving cases during the course of his career. Today, Mr. Lawson has developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator and continues to help clients by fighting to keep them out of jail.


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