Drunk Driving Laws - The Evolution

Updated: Mar 6, 2019

Laws, the rules that govern and control a population are a codification and reflection of the feelings and attitudes of a society, or at least a portion of the society who is in power. This is no better illustration of this than by looking at the history of the drunk driving laws, which, as you may notice are rarely referred to as “drunk driving” today.


Long ago in a time far, far away, drunk driving was not looked at by society as serious as it is today. There was no mandatory minimum sentencing, no interlock devices, and no “family plates”. In fact, if you were found intoxicated you were just as likely told to sleep it off on the side of the road or driven home than you were to be arrested. No such luck today. Many factors have combined to change the perception and values of society, aside from changes in society’s temperament.


People have become more mobile; the highway infrastructure and motor vehicles are more advanced. The time when one didn’t drive much more than a mile or less to drink their alcohol has exited modern society while the ease and ability to travel has expanded greatly; it is this shift exposes more risk to the populous by the drunk driver.


Communications, by way of 24 hour news cycle, social media, and the internet has opened the flood-gates of information. This information is passed among the public very rapidly, expanding the ability of individuals, advocacy groups, zealots, and even extremists to “get their word out” to the masses. Their message motivates then mobilizes the public to generate change. Whether this pressure is on law makers or focused toward special interest groups, change is the result. Then a shift in feelings, beliefs, and acceptable parameters for the public at large.


Think back to the evolution of the warning commercials. First, it was simple and direct, “Don’t Drive Drunk”, then it became, “Friends Don’t let Friends Drive Drunk,” then “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” to today, “You Drink, You Drive, You lose.” The subtle movement from drunk driving being bad to any drinking before driving is wrong is a micro view of society’s stance on drunk driving and how it has changed. The same is said for punishing those convicted of drunk driving.


Mandatory minimum sentences for drunk driving which removes any discretion away from a Judge was not always the case, but now it is the law. Driving suspensions and reinstatement fees have grown over time. Advances in technology have provided an avenue for vendors to join in and have their product adopted into the punishment of drunk drivers, creating a money-making venture for themselves. Good examples of this are SCRAM monitors, ignition interlock devices, electronic monitoring and extended treatment facilities. As the pressures placed on drinking and driving have become crushing one must face the simple conclusion that unless you are prepared to stay at home and drink, walk to where you want to be, have a designated driver or hire a taxi, Uber or Lyft, one can no longer afford to take the chance that any amount of alcohol consumption followed by driving may expose individuals to penalties that they cannot afford. To keep your head in the sand, to deny the risk, or to think, “it’ll never be me”… are famous last words and errant thoughts that will come back to bite you in a big way.


Clearly, a careful risk analysis will dictate that you get with the mood of the law and not let yourself become a statistic. Cliche's aside - "Don't Drink & Drive"


Next topic: Impaired Driving



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