Back in Time: Coroner started campaign against drunken drivers in 1937

This week's Back in Time feature looks at Oct. 27, 1937, when County Coroner James E. Smith announce

C.W. Burrill was sick of drunken drivers.

“I don’t object to drinking in principle,” the North Elm Street resident complained to Schenectady officials, “but I insist drunk drivers have no place on the highways. That danger should be eliminated.

“Drunk drivers also should be convicted,” Burrill continued in a statement. “Too often we pick up the newspapers and discover that drivers, apparently drunk at the time of the accident, have been freed or have been allowed to answer to a lesser plea.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1937, County Coroner James E. Smith announced a campaign to keep bombed drivers off local roads.

He suggested that men and women involved in traffic accidents — and suspected of drunken driving — undergo immediate examinations by medical personnel. These physical tests, administered at the scene, would lead to conviction and sentence.

“The reason Mr. Burrill notes and condemns . . . the non-conviction of drunk drivers is simply this,” Smith said, “The courts are unable to obtain convictions because they cannot prove definitely that a defendant was drunk at the time of the accident.”

Smith, who described drunken driving as a “vicious evil,” also wanted to send a message to citizens: “Intoxicated drivers will not be tolerated,” he said.

City police and county sheriff’s deputies gave Smith their support.

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