Florida DUI: The History of DUI Laws

It is generally accepted that the first-ever arrest for driving drunkenly occurred September 10th, 1897. ALondon taxi driver named George Smith ultimately pled guilty of being drunk when he crashed his taxi into a building and paid a fine for the crime – 25 shillings.

The United Statesdidn’t adopt any laws on drunk driving until the 20th century, whenNew York became the first state to do so in 1910.California followedNew York’s lead shortly after, and other states didn’t take long to join them.

Unlike Florida’s rigid laws today, where driving under the influence of alcohol is tied to a specific blood alcohol percentage and sophisticated tests and techniques exist to determine a person’s level of intoxication and how that relates to the amount of punishment they should face, the first DUI laws didn’t bother to define what level of intoxication constituted driving while drunk, just that it wasn’t allowed. Much like the famous quote about what constitutes pornography, apparently it was simply accepted that police officers would know drunk driving when they saw it.

Florida DUI: The Evolution of Testing for Intoxication

Today, everyone knows what a breathalyzer is, but what most don’t know is that it isn’t the first device of its kind. That title belongs to an amusingly named device invented in 1936 by Dr. Rolla Harger – the Drunkometer. Much like today’s breathalyzers, people would breathe into the Drunkometer and it would determine whether or not someone was intoxicated. One big difference – the device looked a lot like a balloon!

After the Drunkometer was created, the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council did studies showing that people with a BAC of under .15 were still able to drive reasonably well. As a result, .15 was legally designated as the maximum BAC for drivers in 1938. That’s almost double the current legal maximum inFloridaand the rest of the country of .08.

The Drunkometer lasted until 1953, when a university professor (and former police captain) created the Breathalyzer. Because it used photometry and chemical oxidation to measure alcohol vapors in people’s breath, it was far more accurate than the Drunkometer. It also didn’t hurt that officers wouldn’t have to deal with a balloon-like apparatus, which made it a lot easier to use. Still, the BAC of .15 stuck around.

Florida DUI: Tougher Laws and the Rise of MADD

Even though technology continued to evolve, our attitudes about driving while intoxicated largely stayed the same (it was a nuisance and should be punished, but not a major problem) until the late 70s and early 80s.

In 1980, aCaliforniawoman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver created MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. After she learned that the drunk driver had not only previously been convicted of three DUIs, but was also out on bail from a hit-and-run arrest when he killed her daughter, the woman led a crusade for tougher drunk-driving laws.

With MADD leading the charge, the government enacted tougher laws for people who were convicted for driving while intoxicated and raised the legal age that anyone can drink in theUnited Statesto 21. MADD and other groups also successfully fought to get the maximum legal BAC reduced from .15 to .10, and helped to institute zero tolerance policies for underage drinkers, meaning that anyone under the age of 21 found driving with any amount of alcohol would receive a DUI. Today, the federal government has helped to push the maximum BAC level down even further, to .08 nationwide.

Florida DUI: Where Things Stand Today

As any experienced Florida DUI attorney will tell you, the state has some of the harshest DUI penalties in the country. Though punishments will vary depending on the amount of alcohol in your system when you are tested, the number of DUI convictions you have previously received, and the circumstances of this arrest (such as whether or not you are a minor or got into an accident), there are a number of things that you should expect.



    • DUI school


    • Incarceration in county jail


    • Victim awareness panels


    • Fines of between $500 and $1,000


    • Driver’s license revocation


    • Car impound or immobilization


    • Court costs


    • Ignition interlock device


With these kinds of serious punishments, you want to make sure that you have a knowledgeable Florida DUI lawyer fighting for your rights as early on in the process as possible.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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