September 10: The first drunk driver was arrested on this date in 1897

Justin Hyde


Every nostalgia-tinted look back through history inevitably loses key bits of context to time. For example: Many of our ancestors lived and worked much of their lives drunk. What we call coffee breaks used to be the "elevenses" when 19th-century Americans would down corn liquor, the cheapest way to process an overabundance of grain. And on this date in 1897 — less than a month after London taxi drivers began using their first electric-powered cabs — one George Smith smashed his into a building, becoming the first person in the world arrested for drunk driving.

More than a century later, drunk driving stubbornly remains the single deadliest threat on American highways, claiming 13,000 lives a year. From road blocks to talking urinal cakes, enforcement and public appeals have hit a point of diminishing returns such that federal auto safety regulators are researching whether cars should come with built-in alcohol detection systems. Here's the rare confession of one drunk driver, Matthew Cordle, who was sentenced last year to 6 1/2 years in prison and a lifetime driving ban for his role in the death of an Ohio man:

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