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DUI Meaning: What is DUI and Where does the Term Come From. When did Laws Start Cracking Down on DUI

by Goni S.

DUI Meaning, What is DUI

What is DUI?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the most common causes of car accidents in the US and is a crime under the law in all US states. DUI related accidents account for about a third of all traffic accidents in the US, and around 25 people die every day as a result of drunk driving.

When anyone in the US applies for a driver's license, they need to take a test, and there is always a question about driving under the influence on this test. While state laws sometimes vary regarding DUI laws, since 2003, every state in the US has a maximum of .08 blood alcohol level to drive legally. Some states go as low as .05


DUI Meaning

Origins of The Term DUI

The term DUI short for driving under the influence is the most commonly used term for drunk driving, it was first used in 1969 and now has entered into most American’s lexicon. There are other acronyms for DUI that are used in other states such as OUI, Operating under the influence which is used in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. OWI is an acronym for operating while intoxicated, and there is DWI driving while intoxicated. 

While DUI is the most common term for drunk driving, there are many other acronyms that you should be aware of. Some of these acronyms are because of different state laws and some differ because of the nature and severity of the crime. DWAI- “Driving while ability impaired,” is similar to DUI and means you’re operating a vehicle while your ability to drive safely has been compromised even if your blood alcohol level is below .08.

OUI - “Operating under the influence” (same meaning as DUI) OWI-“Operating while intoxicated” (same meaning as DWI). OMVI- “Operating a motor vehicle impaired. Aggravated DUI- This is a DUI with an added severity, for example, drunk driving with kids in the car, speeding while drunk, or if your blood alcohol level is above .15.

Felony DUI- If you hurt or kill someone while drunk driving you can be charged with a felony DUI, which usually involves heavy jail time. Additionally if this a repeat offense of DUI for the offender, a court can charge you with a felony DUI.

What is DUI

History of DUI 

The first car was invented in 1885 by Karl Benz, a German engine designer, and automobile engineer. However, cars only became mass-produced almost 30 years later by Ford in 1913. Laws regarding driving were only put into place as they became necessary, for example, the first law restricting the use of a phone while driving was passed in New York in 2001.

The first state in the US to pass a law restricting drinking and driving was New Jersey which enacted a law stating that “no intoxicated person shall drive a motor vehicle”. Punishments for this crime were finds up to 500 dollars and 60 days in jail. 

New York quickly followed suit, passing a law in 1910 that made drunk driving illegal. However, there was no explanation as to what drunk driving was and no way to prove that someone was drunk. In 1936 the first version of a breathalyzer was invented by Dr. Rolla N Hargerand which was coined the “Drunkometer”.

This device looked like a balloon and involved the suspect breathing into the balloon. The air that was blown would go into a chemical solution that changed color depending on the level of alcohol in the person's system. 

 

In 1938, Dr. Harger worked with the National Safety Council in drafting laws that implemented the use of evidence from drunk meters and other like devices to prove blood alcohol content levels. This law was first implemented in 1939 by Harger’s home state of Indiana.

Other states soon followed and amended their laws to allow for these provisions including New York which changed their law to state that driving with a blood-alcohol level of .15 or higher within two hours of being arrested constitutes drunk driving. 

In 1954, the breathalyzer was invented by Robert F. Borkenstein, who built off of Harger’s work to invent a portable and more effective device for measuring blood alcohol levels. Borkenstein continued to work on making roads safer for

Americans by conducting studies in the mid-1960s found definitive evidence that the higher one's blood alcohol level is, the more likely they are to get in an accident. As a result, many states started reducing the blood alcohol limit from .15 to .10. 

DUI origin

During the period of the 1960s, although it was considered illegal, most people in the US did not view drunk driving as a serious crime. Many saw drunk driving as a rite of passage for young men. Although the laws had strict penalties, they were rarely applied to those who were arrested, the defendant would usually ask for a jury trial, where they were almost always acquitted. 

In 1968, the U.S. Department of Transportation presented to Congress its Alcohol and Highway Safety Report, which showed that nearly half of all fatal car accidents in the U.S. involved drivers with elevated blood-alcohol levels, and during the 1970s many states started heavily restricting drunk driving.

One of these restrictions was the passing of per se DUI laws which was first passed in 1972. The per se DUI law states that you do not have to prove that alcohol affected the ability to operate the car, as long as your blood alcohol level was above a certain limit and you drove, it is a crime. These per se laws are still in effect today throughout the entire US. 

In the 1980s there was a rise in the publics' demand for safer streets through the prevention of drunk driving. Stories such as what happened to 13-year-old Cari Lightner, daughter of the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) who was killed by a drunk driver who had multiple previous offenses, and was released 2 days earlier from an incident of drunk driving began to affect public opinion.

MADD together with a similar organization like SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk) began campaigns to educate people about the dangers of drunk driving and most of America began to see driving under the influence as both dangerous and immoral. Laws regarding DUI’s continuously become stricter, and although there has been a decrease in drunk driving fatalities by 31% in the past 20 years, drunk driving is still a serious issue in the US. 


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