September 10, 1897 – First drunk driving arrest

You would hope that when you hail a cab your taxi driver would be able to get you home safely. While that is generally the case, if you had so happened to get into George Smith’s London cab on this day in 1897 you may have been witness to the first arrest for drunk driving. Smith wasn’t exactly pulled over for swerving over the yellow line. He smashed his cab into the side of a building prior to being arrested. He pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol and was fined 25 shillings. While Smith admitted his guilt, it wasn’t until 1931 that police had a reliable scientific way of testing a person to see if they were in fact drunk. While blood and urine tests existed before hand, it was the invention of the Drunkometer by Rolla Harger that would eventually lead to the breathalyzer we know today. The device he came up with involved the suspected driver blowing into a balloon and the officer would then attach the balloon to a hose connected to a device with potassium permanganate and sulfuric acid inside and release the air. The chemicals made up a purple liquid but when mixed with trace amounts of alcohol, such as that on a drunk person’s breath, it would turn the purple fluid yellow. The faster the change in color the drunker the person. Today driving under the influence remains a problem all over the world. In 2007 1.4 US drivers were arrested for driving while intoxicated. In the same year some 13,000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. Pic: A cab similar to that of what George Smith may have been driving in the first DUI arrest.

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