Driving drunk consequences in Maine: Tough enough?

Driving drunk consequences in Maine: Tough enough?

A recent news segment on NBC TV cited Maine as having among the most lax laws for those with multiple drunk-driving convictions. True? It’s hard to tell as the report cited no source but a check of state law suggests that there are somewhat serious consequences for multiple offenses though relatively short stays in jail and no prison time unless the offender is involved in a fatal crash. So, how tough is Maine?

First, according to the CDC, causing fatalities while driving drunk is predominantly a male behavior. Nationally, there are 5.2 deaths per 100,000 adult male drivers while there are only 1.5 alcohol-related driving deaths among women. Second, the overwhelming national death rate in these fatalities is among drivers 21-34 years of age, a rate more than double any other age group.

Between 2003 and 2012, Maine experienced 491 deaths involving a drunk driver. In addition, survey data indicated that 1.2 percent of those responding said they had driven after drinking too much within the last 30 days. That compares “favorably” with 1.9 percent among all responding drivers in the nation.

That suggests about 10,000 to 12,000 adults are on the road each month having had too much to drink. One would think that short of prison time, the consequences of driving drunk more than once would deter bad behavior – though probably not if there is a drug or alcohol addiction.

The Maine Bureau of Highway Safety web site states, “ if you are driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more, you are guilty of a criminal offense known as Operating Under the Influence (OUI). Following your arrest, based solely on the police report and blood alcohol content (BAC) test results, the Secretary of State will immediately suspend your license. This suspension takes place prior to any court appearance, so while you’re waiting for your day in court, you won’t be driving.

“If you are under 21 years of age, Maine has a special law for you. If you are found operating, or attempting to operate, a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in your body, you will lose your license for one year. If you refuse a test, you will lose your license for at least 18 months. If you have a passenger under 21 years of age, an additional 180 day suspension will be imposed.”

A table on the web site shows that if the driver refuses a sobriety test, his license will be suspended for 275 days and must spend four days in jail. If he has four or more offenses, he may lose their license for 8 years but face no more than 6 months in jail.

If the offending driver has been responsible for a fatality, he can be convicted of vehicular homicide which can result in up to 30 years in prison and permanent loss of the right to drive. The question is: Are the intermediate measures harsh enough to deter repeat offenses?

What can our state do to reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes?

Beyond education and early awareness, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggest that the following strategies can help deter drunk driving; a danger to everyone on the road.

  • Sobriety checkpoints allow police to briefly stop vehicles at specific, highly visible locations to see if the driver is impaired. Police may stop all or a certain portion of drivers. Breath tests may be given if police have a reason to suspect the driver is intoxicated.
  • Ignition interlocks installed in cars measure alcohol on the driver’s breath. Interlocks keep the car from starting if the driver has a BAC above a certain level, usually 0.02%. They’re used for people convicted of drunk driving and are highly effective at preventing repeat offenses while installed. Mandating interlocks for all offenders, including first-time offenders, will have the greatest impact.
  • Multi-component interventions combine several programs or policies to prevent drunk driving. The key to these comprehensive efforts is community mobilization by involving coalitions or task forces in design and implementation.

For the average adult, the consequences for being convicted of OUI can derail careers, family relationships and future employment. It’s worth training yourself to stow your keys and find a way home with a sober driver and never take the chance that you could be the cause of an accident or death.

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