When Did Drunk Driving Become Illegal?

The world changed in 1982 with the introduction of the iPhone. Before that, everything was analogue – the TV was still in black and white, radio was dial-based, and the only way we could communicate with each other was face-to-face. The shift to digital made everything more streamlined, convenient, and accessible. Even now, decades later, we can’t go back to how things were before the internet. In fact, we can’t even go back to how things were a few years before the iPhone – in 2021, being drunk on a bike is still a crime in 40 of the 50 states. It’s time to update our outdated perceptions of drunk driving, and let’s start with how it became illegal to drive after drinking at all.

The 18th Amendment And Prohibition

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This amendment ended national Prohibition and established the precedent that states would be permitted to drink alcohol. On the heels of this amendment, state laws across the country regulating alcohol consumption were enacted. By 1921, most states had adopted some sort of prohibition or “dry” law (eight states and the District of Columbia had completely banned alcohol altogether before the 18th Amendment). Interestingly, these laws were not meant to prevent people from driving while intoxicated; rather, they were intended to keep alcohol out of the hands of children, teenagers, and non-drivers.

Prohibition In The Roaring 20s

The United States of America did not always allow for the open consumption of alcohol. For much of its existence, the country was largely dry. The only exceptions were in certain locales where restaurants and bars advertised their “local brew,” often available in bottles or cans handy for patrons to bring back to their tables. This practice made getting drunk on the job much easier and encouraged people to drink in public – hence the term “dry territory.” During this time, people often got arrested for driving under the influence, but it wasn’t actually legal for an adult to drink and drive. This is in stark contrast to how things stand today, when it’s legal for an adult to drink and drive in every state but a few. The change didn’t occur overnight, and it wasn’t even fully implemented in every state right away. The process of turning back the clock began in earnest in the early 20s, and it wasn’t until the 1930s that all 50 states adopted an open-container law for alcohol. The 20s were a time of extravagant living, and young people especially loved to party. Restaurants and bars opened up across the country, offering higher-quality and more affordable alcoholic beverages than ever before. It was the perfect time to be a part of the “dry” lifestyle.

The Evolution Of Driving While Drunk

The stereotype of the drunk driver is usually that of a man or a woman driving a car or a truck in an impaired state. This stereotype is perpetuated by the fact that most states make it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, so when someone is arrested for drunk driving, it’s often because they were driving while impaired. The truth, however, is that drunk driving has existed for centuries, and the way people consumed alcohol and the types of vehicles they used changed over the years. Here’s a brief history of drunk driving in the United States.

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