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'Driving under influence' culture more lenient during 1970s

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- These days, in most of the United States, if you drink and drive you go to jail.

But back in the 1970s, even as Southern California schoolchildren watched grim films about the evils of driving under the influence, things were different.

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"People were getting off free, were getting away with it," says Clint Nunez, who has patrolled the streets of suburban Los Angeles for more than 30 years. "The late '60s and '70s were party times."

Drunken driving was not a high priority and most of society didn't take offenses seriously. It wasn't uncommon for police officer to allow inebriated drivers to "sleep it off." In some instances, drunk drivers were allowed to find another way home.

"You could smell alcohol on their breath but you didn't want them to drive any further," says Nunez. "So you'd call a relative up and have them come and pick this person up and maybe take the car with them too."

Those who were arrested found penalties and laws more lenient in the 1970s. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan was arrested twice for driving under the influence, and spoke about it last summer.

"I was able to cop out for reckless driving and it's part of my record. I'm not proud of it, but I think its helped me understand myself better," Riordan said.

Then, in 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed and society changed its mind about driving under the influence of alcohol. Laws changed and penalties increased. Along the way, MADD estimates that the advocacy group has helped save 14,000 lives.

Back in the 1970s, a drunk driving arrest was embarrassing, but sometimes that's all it was.

 



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Friday, November 3, 2000


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