2017 marked the 120th year since the first arrest for drunk driving. The details of that incident long ago highlight how technology has made car accidents from drunk driving even more dangerous, as well as how law enforcement has evolved to rein in the cost of those dangers.
The First Drunk Driving Arrest Happened in 1897
The first case of drunk driving ever recorded happened on September 10, 1897, in London, England.
According to London’s Morning Post, a taxi driver named George Smith was seen losing control of his cab at just before one in the morning. Back then, cars were so new that the newspaper had to explain what it was: “a motorcar – a four-wheeled electric cab.”
When Smith lost control of his car, “the vehicle 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.”
No one was hurt – cars back then could not go faster than 8mph – but Smith was arrested and fined £1 (a little over $100, now) for being drunk.
Speed of Cars Have Made Drunk Driving Far Worse
There is not a lot of damage that can be done when a car crashes while traveling less than 10mph. In the crash that Mr. Smith caused back in 1897, there were no injuries and only minimal property damage.
If a typical car crashed in the same place now, though, things would be far worse. Cars have changed drastically since 1897, travelling more than three times as fast, nowadays, even when driving cautiously through city streets. If a drunk driver lost control of their vehicle at 165 New Bond Street, now, it would cause numerous injuries and thousands of dollars in damage: The area is a bustling and affluent shopping district in downtown London.
Law Enforcement’s Response to the Problem of Drunk Driving
As cars have gotten faster, making car crashes caused by drunk drivers more costly and dangerous, police have struggled to keep up with the problem.
In Mr. Smith’s case in 1897, he was only convicted and fined because he admitted to the police that he had been drinking and driving. Without such a confession, prosecutors used to have to rely on officer testimony to get a conviction: A serious problem when the officer had mere moments to tell if someone was drunk or just nervous. Additionally, police could not convict Smith for drunk driving because it was not actually a crime, yet.
Since then, drunk driving laws have been enacted in every state – starting with New Jersey in 1906 – and strengthened in an attempt to deter people from getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, police have developed more reliable means for determining if someone was too inebriated to drive, like the breathalyzer, which was invented in 1953.
St. Joseph Car Accident Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
Drunk driving has become one of the biggest dangers on the roads of Missouri, today, causing serious car accidents on a daily basis.
If you or someone you love has been hurt in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, you deserve to be compensated. Call the car accident and personal injury attorneys at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph at (816) 875-9373 or contact us online.