It happened today - September 10, 2015

Well, that didn’t take long. On September 10 of 1897 mankind crowned the achievement of inventing the automobile with the first ever drunk driving charge. A London cab driver who told police his name was “George Smith” (yeah, sure, buddy, but it actually was) slammed into a building in, progressives please note, an electric car.

He owned up and was fined 25 shillings, a large sum in those days. There weren’t reliable chemical tests for breath alcohol yet but the old red eyes, slurred speech, difficulty standing and bad driving apparently did the trick. Or even a guilty conscience.

It’s interesting that there don’t seem to have been similar laws against riding a horse drunk, though that too can be dangerous. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1910 that the first U.S. state got around to banning driving drunk, New York, followed quickly by California.

In those days technology hadn’t yet brought the scientifically reliable tests for intoxication it had already made necessary. (Even the 1936 “drunkometer” was apparently not as reliable as the modern “Breathalyzer” though it sure had a better name.) But it would, it would have to, as the human race swerved erratically toward the stars.

It happened todayJohn Robson