History of breathalyzer & ignition interlock devices

A brief history on ignition interlock & breathalyzer devices

 

New York was the first state to pass a Driving Under the Influence “DUI” law. The earliest DUI laws did not specify a legal limit of intoxication but banned motorists from driving drunk, regardless of levels. In the late 1930’s, the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council teamed up to make US roads safer. They determined that a driver with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of 0.15 percent or higher could be considered to be inebriated, while a driver with a BAC under 0.15 could not.

 

A blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 became the first commonly-used legal limit for a BAC. In 1984, the national minimum legal drinking age was set to 21, which then allowed for the Zero Tolerance legislation to be passed in 1998. It was not until the year 2000 that congress adopted a nationwide legal limit of 0.08 for impaired driving.

 

In 1936, Dr. Rolla Harger, an Indiana University professor of toxicology and biochemistry, patented a device called the Drunkometer. The device required a breath sample, that when mixed with a chemical solution, determined the level of intoxication of a subject. In 1953, Robert Borkenstein invented the breathalyzer.

 

This machine used chemical oxidation and photometry to determine alcohol concentration. After blowing into a machine, the machine would measure the alcohol vapors in a consumer’s breath, thus showing the level of alcohol in their breath. This invention surpassed the Drunkometer for its accuracy and user friendly capabilities.

 

The first performance based interlocks were developed by Borg-Warner Corp in 1969. The ignition interlock is a device commonly installed into the vehicles of DUI offenders. In order for the vehicle to be operable, the offender must submit a breath sample that is either low-alcohol or alcohol free, thus allowing the engine to be started. Interlock devices were later added to the DUI offender marketplace in the mid-1980s.

 

By the early 1990s, the industry began to produce “second generation” interlocks with reliable and accurate fuel cell sensors. As of 2012, all 50 states have laws permitting the imposition of ignition-interlock devices as sentencing alternatives for drunken drivers. Currently, however, only about half of all states require interlocks for all offenders.

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