The History & Future of the Breathalyzer: Part II

In the first part of our blog examining the history and development of both the breathalyzer and DUI law, we examined some of the earliest technologies for determining blood-alcohol levels, and how many of them were in no way competent enough to adequately prove that someone behind the wheel was too inebriated to drive. Combined with a generally-relaxed attitude towards drunk drivers from both the general populace and the laws themselves, and thousands of people were being killed by drunk drivers every year.

However, one landmark study that effectively linked drunk driving with crashes, injuries, and fatalities set a major swing in motion for a dramatic change in the attitude about intoxicated driving.

Changing Legislation

Despite some European countries having strict blood-alcohol limits by the 1940s, the United States was much slower to adopt these legal limits. Under the guise that relying on devices and chemical testing was outside of the spirit of the legal system, detractors referred to these testing devices as “push-button justice.” The American public still overwhelmingly preferred the testimony of a police officer or witnesses in their trial cases over these mechanical breath tests, which seems incomprehensible today.

When World War II ended, there was another sharp explosion in automobile ownership (and drunk driving accidents), but again legislation around drunk driving didn’t seem to adapt with the times. Even until the late 1960’s, several states didn’t actually consider a driver intoxicated until their blood alcohol measured a 0.15%, nearly twice today’s legal limit.

The Breathalyzer

In 1954, a police photographer in Indiana by the name of Robert Borkenstein developed a machine that could determine blood alcohol through someone’s breath that was cheaper, easier to operate, did not require a complex chemical mixture, and was easily portable. Dubbed the “Breathalyzer,” this technology would gather the interest of police officers quickly. This was further accentuated by a landmark study conducted by Borkenstien which definitively linked drunk driving with car accidents.

Using the results of this study, just a few years later the U.S. Department of Transportation came up with the sobering statistic that half of all traffic fatalities in the country involved alcohol. As the technology for breathalyzers improved (becoming like the electronic ones we see today in the 1970s), legislation changed that eventually dropped the required blood alcohol to the levels we see today.

The Future

Breathalyzers can now be found in so many different forms that they’ve become an expected part of life for adults who choose to partake in alcohol. You can buy pocket-sized breathalyzers that are far more accurate than any of the original devices ever could have hoped to be and they are simpler to operate and cost less as well.

As states begin to explore the possibility of legalizing drugs like marijuana for recreational use, this once again is bringing testing for this new form of intoxication into question. With states like Colorado already seeing some positive impacts of their decision to legalize the substance in limited quantities, it is not out of the realm of possibility that California and other states soon follow suit, which will once again open the conversation for how this type of intoxication impairs your ability to drive, and how to test legal for a legal limit.

However, unlike alcohol, marijuana intoxication has a difficult fight right from the get-go. While alcohol intoxication was not seen as a threat to safety when it first emerged, marijuana intoxication is already causing concern with citizens and law enforcement with regards to motorists. As the future unfolds, new devices will be invented and new laws will be passed to regulate intoxication by this substance and others while driving to once again help increase public safety.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, seek the legal counsel of a skilled DUI attorney in Pasadena as soon as possible. The award-winning attorneys at Hutton & Wilson have successfully resolved thousands of cases and protected the rights and freedoms of individuals from many of the serious consequences of a DUI charge. Let us evaluate your case today, free of charge!

Call Hutton & Wilson today at (626) 587-2220 and let us help you with your DUI case!