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Noted New York Accident Lawyer Traces History of DUI Laws in the U.S.A.

Only last week, John Goodman, a 48 year-old Florida millionaire, was found guilty on two counts: The first was DUI manslaughter and failure to render aid. The second, vehicular homicide and failure to give information to the authorities. Goodman hit and ran another vehicle off the road into a canal, then got out of his Bentley GTC convertible and walked away from the scene of the accident. The police later found the other driver dead in his submerged car. It took a Palm Beach County jury only 5 1/2 hours to reach its verdict. Goodman is facing 11 1/2 to 30 years in prison.

The New York Times reported that a pair of tests taken 3 hours after the accident showed Goodman's blood-alcohol content level was .177% and .178%, which is more than three times Florida's legal limit.

"To understand better how justice was served in this case," Howard Raphaelson, partner in the New York accident law firm of RaphaelsonLevine said, "we need to look back at the history of laws in this country involving drinking and driving -- and how these law have evolved from their inception to today, when driving under the influence is now a potentially criminal offense."

According to Raphaelson, it was back in 1910 that New York became the first state to adopt drunk-driving laws. California followed close behind. And, with the two most politically powerful bookend states leading the charge, the remaining 48 states soon followed suit. "In the early days," Raphaelson explained, "laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol were very general. They simply stated that a driver could not operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. But the phrase "intoxicated" is very broad term and open to interpretation by the courts. A clearer definition of the term had not yet been established by lawmakers, which made enforcement and punishment problematic."

These generic laws remained on the books for nearly 20 years, Raphaelson noted. It wasn't until around 1930 when two organizations took on the task of making roads safer. One organization was The American Medical Association, which created a committee to study the most common causes of vehicular accidents. Concurrently, the federal government established the National Safety Council (NSC) to develop tests that could be used to determine the level of a driver's intoxication at the time of an accident.

The NSC's research concluded that a driver with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.15 percent or higher could be presumed to be inebriated, while a driver with a BAC under 0.15 could not. These findings would establish the criterion by which a person could be charged with a crime for DUI. These findings also provided justification to the courts when determining the degree of punishment for being caught drinking and driving. It took another 40 years for DUI laws to get even stricter and penalties more severe. According to Raphaelson, much of credit for tougher DUI laws today must go to two dedicated public service groups, namely Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Candy Lightner, the founder of MADD whose son was killed by a drunken driver, was an inspirational leader in the fight for tougher DUI laws. The pressure put on municipal, state and federal governments by these groups led to many changes in DUI laws in the years that followed. Most notably, the raising of the legal drinking age to 21 in all 50 states. These groups also changed the way drinking and driving laws were enforced, which up to that point was not a priority for law enforcement agencies.

Further, these organizations fought and won legal battles to reduce the legal BAC limit from the original 0.15 percent, to 0.10 percent; and then levels were further reduced to 0.08 percent Zero Tolerance laws were later adopted by many states. These laws make it illegal for minors under the age of 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.01 or 0.02 percent.

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