Robert F. Borkenstein


Honorary Degree (1987)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


For nearly fifty years, Robert F. Borkenstein has been a national and international leader in the forensic sciences, criminal justice education, and traffic safety. His extensive research on highway safety has established this field as an area for scientific research as well as social concern, and he is in demand as a consultant in many countries around the world. Professor Borkenstein is most famous for his contributions to the understanding and control of alcohol impairment in traffic accidents, and his research and numerous publications on this subject are well known to the international forensic science and traffic law community.

Robert Borkenstein served with the Indiana State Police from 1936 to 1958 as captain in charge of laboratory services. During that time he was at the forefront of experimental research on breath testing for alcohol. He collaborated with Professor R. N. Harger of the Indiana University School of Medicine in the introduction of the Drunkometer, the first instrument for accurate measurement of quantities of alcohol in the bloodstream by breath analysis. On the basis of this work he invented the Breathalyzer, an instrument that changed the approach of forensic science and police enforcement in response to drinking-and-driving problems. This technological innovation, used around the world, has enabled traffic enforcement authorities to determine and quantify blood alcohol concentration with sufficient accuracy to meet the demands of legal evidence, and with an immediacy that dramatically increases the ability to respond quickly to potentially dangerous traffic situations.

His contributions to the forensic sciences also include employment of photography in criminal and accident investigation, early and conservative use of the polygraph (lie detector) in the interrogation of criminal suspects, and evaluation and improvement of the first major electronic speed measurement device in traffic law enforcement. Dr. Borkenstein is a distinguished leader in the advancement and popularization of the cause of traffic safety. Since 1939 he has been involved in the affairs of the National Safety Council and the Council's Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs, and was for many years president of the International Committee on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety. Under his direction, an International Symposium, held at Indiana University in 1955, articulated a scientific consensus on driving impairment caused by relatively low blood alcohol concentrations, establishing the scientific basis for current efforts to control the widespread problem of drunk driving.

For many years while he was with the Indiana State Police, Professor Borkenstein taught at Indiana University's Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology within the law school. Upon his retirement from the State Police in 1958, he joined the University as chairman of the Department of Police Administration, now the Department of Criminal Justice. Professor Borkenstein converted the department from a traditional police training program to a multi-disciplinary teaching, research, and service center that rapidly achieved national prominence for its pioneering insistence on the integration of a liberal arts core into professional training in criminal justice. His vision established the department as one of the few in the field that is of truly university caliber, with emphasis on research and scholarship as well as teaching and service. He served as department chairman until 1971, and from that year until his retirement in 1983 served as director of the Indiana University Center for Studies of Law in Action.

Professor Borkenstein's extensive contributions to forensic science, traffic law enforcement, and highway safety were recognized in 1963 by the honorary Doctor of Science from Wittenberg University. In 1966 he received the Liberty Bell Award of the Indiana Bar Association for outstanding contribution to public understanding of the law. He also received in 1970 the special citation of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of China; in 1974 the prestigious Widmark Award of the International Committee on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety; the Distinguished Service to Traffic Safety Award of the National Safety Council in 1982; and the Distinguished Service Award in Recognition of Service to the State of Alaska in 1983. He was awarded the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel of the Indiana State Police in 1981, and has been elected to the Harvard Associates in Police Science, the British Society for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs, and the International Association of Arson Investigators.

In 1966-1967 he served on the President's Commission on Traffic Safety.
Professor Borkenstein is a member of several national and international organizations in criminal justice, and served as consultant to the United States Public Health Service, Division of Accident Prevention. Among his publications are more than fifty articles and studies on traffic safety and forensic science, several of which have been published abroad. In particular, his landmark research findings on the deterioration of skills at even relatively low blood alcohol concentrations, published in his study "The Role of the Drinking Driver in Traffic Accidents," have become a cornerstone of traffic alcohol control legislation in this country and abroad, and in the highway safety standards of the United States Department of Transportation.

Robert Borkenstein has devoted many years of service to the State of Indiana and to Indiana University. Both nationally and internationally, he continues to be among the most highly regarded forensic scientists and a major figure in the promotion of traffic safety.