Drunk driving in the 1950s and 1960s

While I was watching Mad Men I noticed a few times Don would drive after knocking back some drinks. Was it against the law in the 50’s and 60’s? And was it more socially acceptable and common place back then? Now we have mothers against drunk driving etc.

It was against the law but I don’'t remember it being regarded as a “real horrible thing”. MADD in the 1980s helped harden attitudes, although my boss, whose 17 year old son was killed by a drunk driver, swears that society does not do enough to these people (the drunk survived and his been in and out of jail over the last 15 years for similar offenses, she has testified against him in various parole hearings).
It was regarded a little more serious than we regard littering or driving without a seat belt, but not much.

Driving while intoxicated (or under the influence) was against the law, but there was a much lower level of public awareness and concern over the issue, and legal punishment tended to be lax. MADD probably had a lot to do with current laws and attitudes.

Note also that how many drinks over what timeframe makes a difference as to level of impairment.

I’m pretty sure that the per-se BAC limits tended to be higher before the 1980s than the 0.08% they typically are now.

It actually comes up (IIRC) in the third season…

Don drives into a ditch while drunk (and with a lady not his wife) and Peggy has to scrounge a few hundred bucks to go bail him out. But I don’t think anything more ever comes of it.

But, yes, in general it varied from state to state until the feds started demanding more severe penalties in the 80’s. In some places, it was only slightly more severe than a speeding ticket and you’d either get a ride home in a police car or have to stay in jail until you sobered up. In others you would definitely get arrested and while it certainly wasn’t a felony, there were some pretty stiff fines involved.

Prior to the 70’s, it seemed to me that the majority of people who were driving home drunk were doing so at 2 in the morning after the bars closed, and it didn’t have such a huge coverage because the only people on the road were driving home drunk. The cops would catch some and some got away.

Starting in the 70’s we had a lot more people driving home drunk at 3:30 pm, just after schools let out and ended up plowing into a bus stop full of kids. That’s going to get more media attention than some guy who went sideways off the road into a cornfield at 2 am.

It was very acceptable, especially in Texas. I remember State Representative Henry Gonzalez pretty much single-handedly fought off an open-container law successfully for years and years, much to our delight. I support open-container laws now that I’m older and wiser, but back then I like everyone else I knew believed it our constitutional right to ply the highways with a cold frostie in our hands.

Even into the 1970s it was not a big deal. The one time I was pulled over for drunk driving, I was underage. (17; legal age was 18 then.) It was late at night, and I had obviously been drinking but was not falling-down drunk. I refused to admit I’d been drinking, because that would have gotten one of my favorite bars in trouble. I promised the officers I was going straight home – which was the truth – so since I was going home, they just let me go.

Even in the 70s my dad would drink and drive. I vividly remember going anywhere and he’d have an open beer in his hand.

He never got pulled over, AFAIK.

It was against the law, but the penalties and the stigma was not what it is now.

Awareness of DUI or DWI didn’t take hold on a whole nation level until the early 1980’s or even much beyond that in some states. It just wasn’t a crime the police enforced much until MADD got a lot of influence. I grew up in Louisiana in the 1980’s. It was completely legal to openly drink and drive in Louisiana up until the 90’s as long as you didn’t pose an obvious threat to anyone else even if you did have a beer in hand when you were stopped. It was very difficult to get a DUI charge unless you caused an accident before the 1980’s.

Yes, standards are much more strict these says. Any person that got a DUI prior to 1980 must have been completely shittfaced or had law enforcement that hate them personally. I am only 39 and I saw the noose tighten mainly because of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They are about as powerful a lobby group as the NRA.

Yeah, I visited Texas in the late 1980’s and an open container law was being debated then.

I remember Jackson Hole Wyoming about 1983 had a drive-up takeout window at a local bar. By 2002 it was gone.

Social attitudes seemed to regard it like speeding or running red lights - a bad thing to do, but not socially unacceptable - it was only those lower class drunkards who were horrible and dangerous, not Fred next door who liked his beer during barbeques and was often in good spirits, so to speak. Remeber Hi and Lois cartoon strip had the amiable drunk next door, and Bringing Up Father or Andy Capp featured drunks as the main character. (Andy Capp was also an irascible wife-beater and welfare bum… This was Sunday humour.)

Plus, IIRC it was around late 60’s that breathalyzers became fairly common and relatively portable; and drunk laws were defined in terms of alcohol concentration in blood rather than just police observation of your ability to touch your nose with eyes closed or walk a straight line. Without a precise alcohol content, drunk driving was a subjective thing. If you were injured, it’s not like the police could say “he was acting erratic” when you were in a coma.

One of my friend’s urban legends of the 50’s was the Calgary paid hitman who simply ran his victim off the road on a mountain highway, then consumed a significant amount of alcohol and waited for the police. He might have gotten a slap on the wrist.

I know in the late 70’s the attitudes in rural Canada (where a car was a necessity) were much more lax. One fellow I worked with got a 1-year license suspension and $250 fine for his 3rd offence. He then got an exemption to drive to work and shopping because “his wife could not drive”, and then a 3-week exemption “to go on vacation in the car”; all pretty much rubber stamped, fill in the form at the courthuse. Apparently he ran a day late, and tried to get the exemption extended by a few days to get home. He went into the Justice building in the big city and asked for the form. The guy told him not to bother. He demanded the form, and the guy handed it to him; he said “when you fill it out, it’s my job to approve them, and you will not get the approval”.

In some provinces, a drunk driving (Highways act) conviction was considered “cleared” within 2 or 3 years, so a person could rack up a “first conviction” pretty regularly and still only get the “first offence” penalty of a paltry fine and 6 months or less suspension. Now that it’s a criminal offense and thanks to MADD your driving record does not clear faster than your suspension…

This thread touches on the portrayal of drinking on Mad Men, too: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=552074

That actually has more to do with the explosion of development in Jackson Hole. The drive-through windows at bars in Wyoming are there because of the silly liquor laws in Wyoming that forbid buying beer (or at least full-ABV beer) at grocery stores. Since most little towns in Wyoming can’t support a dedicated liquor store, you had to buy any package alcohol at a bar, and the drive-through allowed respectable types to buy their stuff without having to go into a smokey bar. I think they changed the laws a little bit to allow the separate liquor stores tacked onto grocery stores, but in the real small towns those drive throughs are still there.

Out here in Montana, I can clearly remember I drank a single beer in my '72 Dodge truck on the last day it was legal to do so. Yep, 2006 was just a different time.

In the movie North by northwest Cary Grant is forced to drink an entire bottle of bourbon by spies. Later an intoxicated Grant crashes his car into a police car, is told to sleep it off in his jail cell and pays a $2 fine the next day.

Adjusted for inflation that is a little over $15 today.

In general, DWI convictions usually had minor penalties – usually a fine. The judge, prosecutors, and most of the jury usually could imagine their getting behind the wheel drunk, so had sympathy for the accused.

If you go to youtube and search for “Sure Mac, Sure” you’ll find clips of an AAA movie from the middle 70’s that was as close to an anti-drinking and driving movie as you would get in that era.

The movie was not so much about drunk driving as it was targeting myths about drinking & driving (that a cup of coffee would counteract the booze, etc.)

The consequences of the drunks falling for these myths is remarkably, errr, wacky. The cars end up in funny crashes, etc. No deaths, really. Just goofy crashing. The result seems to be a variation on the 'Don’t drink & drive, you might spill your beer!" except its “Don’t drink and drive, you might damage your car!”

That was the attitude in the 70’s. I’d imagine the attitude in the 50’s & 60’s was even worse.

Things started to turn a bit in the 80’s. The Last Prom has death as a consequence but the movie is so preachy and heavy handed it is something of a joke. There’s also the minor detail that the movie implies only celebrating teens drove drunk and died.

I first got into law enforcement in the summer of 1982. I can’t remember for sure the first time I made a DWI arrest or was even a back-up officer in one but I think it was in October of that year.

You’ll forgive me for not remembering something from 30 years ago.

But I think the guy got a 15 day suspension and $125 fine which is like $220 now.

One of the DWI arrests I made in, like, circa 1984 or so the guy brought a liter of Southern Comfort to court, slammed it (I’m not kidding: he fuggin’ slammed it in like 30 seconds flat) and then insisted we give him a FST (field sobriety test) to prove he could hold his liquor.

We didn’t have to but did anyway.

He failed profusely.

You had to be there friends. You just had to be. You’d be on the floor laughing hysterically now if you had been. You had to see this guy and what he was trying to pull. After he was convicted (of his 3rd OWI BTW) he Ralphed his guts out all over the place. Maybe I’m jagged from the job but it was a riot!!! He was trying to scream through the puke throat “I’m just sick, I’m not drunk!!”.

How often do you ever hear anyone say “one for the road” today?

I’m having difficulty locating a cite, but my understanding is that prior to the drunk driving laws of the 1980’s, being drunk was counted as a mitigating factor in car accidents and vehicular homicide. That is, your penalty would actually be less if you could show that you crashed the car or killed someone because you were drunk, instead of just being a reckless driver. I seem to recall people actually attempting to prove in court that they were drunk to lessen their punishment. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?