1960s Drunk Driving Film Doesn’t Pull Punches

Your Hump-day Recess:  DUI Advice from The 1960s

As more cars came on to US roads in the 1950s, the threat of drunk drivers became more and more difficult to ignore. The curious idea of equipping bars with parking lots unleashed a tide of misery and death that no drunk driving film is seriousamount of policing could contain. If you couldn’t catch them all, public safety experts concluded, perhaps you could teach them. Thus began education campaigns  to convince people to stay sober behind the wheel.

This public service drunk driving film from around 1960 is fairly typical.

The film doesn’t ho

ld back: we’re treated to the sight of Tom as an amputee, his bandaged stump frighteningly evident in an early scene. In this sad story there is no narrow escape for Tom, although *** Spoiler Alert *** his friend Jim doesn’t die.

drunk driving film from 1960sWhat’s interesting about this drunk driving film is where it stands on alcohol limits. The narrator states that at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 some people are impaired, and at .10 all drivers are affected. Those numbers represent on average two and four drinks respectively.

Nowadays we’re less concerned with variation in individual alcohol tolerance. A BAC of .08 is the legal limit, though some activists insist that .05 is a safer level.

Also interesting is Robert Young’s message: “Drinking before you get behind the wheel is simply another bad driving habit.” Today this would be considered a colossal understatement, but Young was delivering the message at a time when people tolerated drunk driving. There were no absolutes in the public mind back then: you were fit to drive if you thought you were fit to drive. The filmmakers – educational firm Charles Cahill and Associates – probably believed that portraying such a common practice as dangerous, reckless, and criminal would repel the audience. They simply weren’t ready to see their beloved drunk driving as all that wrong.

In his book One for the Road Dr. Barron Lerner states that films like these did not make much of a dent in public perception. It would take years more for drunk driving to be seen as a public health problem, and the process of making drunk driving unfashionable would take decades longer. To this day not all US states are on board with strong DUI laws, sobriety courts, and ignition interlock requirements.

So what we’re looking at is a first strike at drunk driving: a blow that didn’t land, but which shows how much some people wanted to fight. We’re glad they kept on punching.