When Did Drunk Driving Become Illegal?

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review. We may earn money when you buy through our links.

The first state to adopt a law against drinking and driving was New York, in 1910. Other states quickly followed. This was only a few years after the mass production of the automobile started—it didn’t take long for law enforcement to realize the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving.

There was no legal limit established at first, however. It was up to each arresting officer to determine whether an individual was too drunk to drive. And it would be over 40 years before a reliable way to measure BAC would become widespread.

Stay Safe and become a SafeWise Insider!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter to get the best safety news, product info, and deals.

By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Here are some other interesting events in the history of the fight against drunk driving:

  • The precursor to today’s Breathalyzers, appropriately called the Drunkometer, was patented in 1936. Individuals being tested breathed into balloon-type gadget, and the air was mixed with a chemical solution. The resulting color of the air indicated the amount of intoxication.
  • Two years after the Drunkometer was introduced, the first commonly used legal limit for blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, was established. It was .15%—nearly twice today’s limit.
  • The Breathalyzer was invented in 1953 by a former police captain named Robert Borkenstein.
  • In 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed, requiring states to raise the drinking age to 21.
  • In 1998, a federal incentive grant was offered to states to encourage them to set a legal BAC limit of .08%.
  • In 2000, .08% was made the national legal limit for drinking and driving.

Drunk driving laws are still evolving, too: Utah recently voted to change its legal limit to .05%, making it the strictest in the nation. Depending on that adjustment’s success in reducing drunk driving accidents, it’s possible other states could follow.

Despite the laws against it, some people still choose to drive while intoxicated. To boost your security if you ever end up in an accident with a drunk driver, we suggest investing in a dash cam that can record the incident.

Compare the top car safety products

Best for
Stand-out feature
Learn more
Read review
Best vehicle trackerOBD port plug-inMaintenance reminders
Best car alarm3,000 ft rangeRemote start
Diesel engine safe
Best dash cam4K Full HD

170° front and rear

Tolerates -20°F to 176°F
Best navigation system6.95 in. touchscreenVoice control
Steering wheel lockHardened steel

3 different sizes

Tamperproof lock
Best portable car jackLifts up to 15 in. and 3,000 lbs.Lightweight


Amazon.com price as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Read full disclaimer.

Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help everyone find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. In her free time, she volunteers at the local botanical garden and writers for the community newspaper.

Recent Articles

woman adjusting thermostat in bright home
10 Best Home Security Systems of 2023
After hundreds of hours of tests and research, plus a combined 50+ years of experience,...
Best DIY Home Security Systems of 2023
SimpliSafe is the best DIY home security system because it's cost-efficient, effective, and easy to...
photo of Canadian house
The Best Home Security Systems in Canada
Find the best home alarm system to protect your house. We looked at price, features,...
Man and woman couple wife husband set up surveillance security camera
2023 Best Home Security Systems for Renters
These renter-friendly home security systems keep your house or apartment safe and require less commitment...