The History of DUI & DWI Laws in New York

The history of laws regarding driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York has evolved over the decades. The laws regarding driving while impaired was neither as strict nor as enforced as they are today. 

Read on and learn more about the history of DUI and DWI laws in New York and how they can affect you today. 

The History of DUI and DWI Laws in New York

In 1910, New York became the first state in America to enforce a law regulating DWI offenses. However, in the 1930s and 1940s, strict DUI laws did not exist. In fact, in the 1930s, some states enforced drunk driving regulations. Still, most impaired drivers only got prosecuted if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level was .15% or greater—almost twice the legal BAC limit that most states utilize today. 

The BAC of .15% became the first-commonly used legal BAC limit due to the American Medical Association’s research. Its research showed that drivers with a BAC of .15% or greater could be pathologically proven to be too compromised to operate a vehicle. 

Most drunk drivers were quickly acquitted of DUI charges in cases early on as the prosecution during that time did not have the required scientific evidence needed to convict drunk drivers by proving their impairment successfully. Besides, there was not much medical information available for prosecutors to use in those cases to tie the consumption of alcohol with impaired driving.

But in 1953, New York was the first state in America to pass an implied consent law that mandated all drivers to give their implied consent to chemical tests if law enforcement suspected them of drunk driving. This New York law said that if law enforcement suspected a motorist of DWI, and the motorist refused to comply to a chemical test to calculate their BAC, their driver’s license would automatically get revoked. 

In 1954, Robert Berkenstein invented the Breathalyzer machine, and it became the standard measurement BAC technology. Its invention became a critical part of DUI/DWI history. This first scientific machine allowed law enforcement officers to confirm if a driver had too much to drink before getting behind the wheel.

Throughout the 1980s, several special interest groups, such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), had an instrumental role in lobbying for legislation that enforced harsh penalties for driving while drunk. As a result of its efforts (and other special interest groups), most states lowered the legal BAC limit to determine a driver’s impairment. By 2004, the entire nation had established legal BAC limits to .08%. 

Throughout the 1990s, the field of DUI defense law grew tremendously. In New York, DUI defense attorneys became popular in the media when they challenged Breathalyzer tests’ validity, argued about the tests’ inaccuracies, and brought up questions regarding the technology’s techniques. DUI defense attorneys also suggested the constitutional challenges regarding breath tests and sobriety tests. 

The field of DUI defense evolved, becoming what it is today—an extraordinarily complex and specialized field. Throughout the 1990s, scientists and researchers conducted more advanced research regarding alcohol consumption and alcohol absorption, leading to DUI defense attorneys to use new defense theories about impairment and the validity of breath analyses and breath test technologies. 


What is the difference between New York’s DUI and DWI laws? 

Read on and learn more about the differences between DUIs and DWIs in New York.

DUIs in New York

New York does not use the offense of DUIs, but it does use DWIs and DWAIs. But what do those offenses mean?

After all, what is a DWAI?

DWIs and DWAIs in New York

New York laws for DWIs (driving while intoxicated) and DWAIs (driving while ability impaired) are different regarding what BAC is used to measure a driver’s impairment.

DWI laws refer to drivers who drive at or above the legal limit of .08%. 

DWAI laws refer to drivers who drive below the legal limit of .08% but still appear impaired. 

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