When Did Drunk Driving Become Illegal?

Most people are surprised to learn that on September 10, 1910, New York was the first state to pass drunk driving laws. California soon followed with its own laws. However, these early laws merely made it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol. It was entirely left up to law enforcement to determine whether someone was too intoxicated to drive. 

When was drunk driving made illegal?

focus is on a hand reaching for car keys that are sitting next to a glass of beer on a bar.

Depending on the state where you lived, drunk driving was allowed in many states, even in the 1980s. According to a news article in the Los Angeles Times, drinking and driving were still considered legal in 26 states as of January 26, 1985. 

The article mentions that at that time, one could travel from Key West, FL, and plan a route to the Idaho-Canadian border and be able to drink for the 3,700-mile trip legally.

It was not until 1980, after Candy Lightner lost her daughter Cari to a drunk driver, that laws started to change. Candy Lightner formed the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which advocated for stricter drunk driving laws. 

In 1984, MADD successfully pushed for the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required all states to raise the legal drinking age to 21. Additionally, MADD launched its “Tie One On For Safety” campaign that encouraged people to tie a red ribbon to their car antennas to remind others not to drink and drive.

Since its founding in 1980, MADD has accomplished significant changes in public policy, including the adoption of strict laws that have resulted in harsher punishments for those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). MADD has also increased public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, and has provided victims’ services and support to those affected by drunk driving accidents.

When you are injured in a drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to more compensation than you realize. Call Jack Bernstein today to schedule a free case evaluation.

When did drunk driving become illegal in Florida?

Florida was one of the 26 states where drinking and driving were still legal in 1985. However, things soon changed in part due to the efforts of MADD. As a result, drunk driving was made illegal in Florida in 1986 in response to the increasing number of deaths and serious injuries that resulted from drinking and driving. 

The state implemented a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21 and also increased the penalties for those convicted of drunk driving. The goal was to create a safer road environment for all motorists by deterring individuals from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

When did drunk driving become illegal in all 50 states? 

Drunk driving became illegal in all 50 states in 1988 when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was fully implemented. The Act required all states to set the legal drinking age at 21 and also made it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.

In 2018, Utah passed its own state law to lower the BAC level from 0.08 percent BAC to 0.05 percent BAC. Since that time, drunk driving accidents and deaths have decreased by about 20 percent. 

Is drunk driving a felony?

In some states, drunk driving can be considered a felony, depending on the circumstances. For example, if the driver has a prior conviction for drunk driving or if someone was seriously injured or killed as a result of the driver’s intoxication, the driver could face felony charges.

In Florida, a drunk driving charge can become a felony if the driver has three or more prior DUI convictions, caused serious bodily injury to another person, or caused the death of another person while driving under the influence.

What are the penalties for drunk driving in Florida?

The penalties for drunk driving in Florida vary depending on the circumstances of the offense. Generally, first-time offenders can face fines of up to $1,000, license suspension, and mandatory community service. Repeat offenders can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.

How many accidents are caused by drunk driving?

an up-close focus on the damage sustained to a white vehicle door after a black vehicle hit it. The black vehicle's bumper is smashed from the impact.

According to a CDC report, in 2020, 11,654 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents. This was a 14 percent increase in deaths from 2019. On average, this amounts to 32 people being killed by drunk driving crashes every day, at a rate of one death every 45 minutes. 

How many drunk driving deaths were there in Florida in 2022?

Florida experienced 390,700 car crashes in 2022, including 5,018 drunk driving alcohol-only accidents that resulted in 2,874 injuries and 290 fatalities, according to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). There were also 227 accidents involving drugs and alcohol that resulted in 149 injuries and 212 fatalities. 

So the combined number of drunk driving deaths in Florida in 2022 amounted to 502 deaths. 

In addition, there were 425 accidents from drivers operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. These accidents resulted in 375 injuries and 243 fatalities. 

There have already been 200 injuries and six fatalities from alcohol-only related crashes that occurred from January 1 through February 15, 2023, in Florida. 

What damages can I seek when a drunk driver injures me?

When a drunk driver injures you, you may be able to seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and other expenses. In addition, depending on the situation, you may also be able to seek punitive damages, which are designed to punish the driver for their grossly negligent reckless behavior.

What if a drunk driver killed my loved one?

If a drunk driver killed your loved one, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that seeks financial compensation for the death of a family member caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness. You may be able to recover damages for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Can I sue a drunk driver even when they are facing criminal charges?

Yes, you can sue a drunk driver even when they are facing criminal charges. While criminal charges are handled in the criminal court system, civil cases are handled in the civil court system. A successful civil lawsuit can result in financial compensation for your injuries, pain, and suffering.

When should I hire a drunk driving injury lawyer?

You should hire a drunk driving injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident involving a drunk driver. An experienced drunk driving lawyer from Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys, can help you navigate the legal process, determine your legal rights and options, and help you seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.

Were you or a loved one injured in a drunk driving accident? Speak to our drunk driving lawyers today to learn more about your legal rights with a free consultation.


Candy Lightner. (2019). 

Florida Crash Dashboard. (2023).

Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. (2022).

Kennedy, J.M. (1985). Allowed in 26 States: Drinking and Driving a Legal Mix.

Wallace, G. (2022). Utah’s New Drunken Driving Law Is Paying Off.