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
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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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