August 20, 2013

How safe are you on the road?

With the potential for so many repeat OUI offenders getting behind the wheel again, the question arises: Why doesn't Maine have a provision to revoke driving privileges for good?

By David Hench
Staff Writer

and Eric Russell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Today's poll: Drunk driving penalties

Should Maine have tougher penalties for people with multiple drunk driving convictions?



View Results

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A sign warns motorists of a sobriety checkpoint on Route 1 in Brunswick.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Drunken driving offenses in Maine
Click below to explore an interactive chart of Maine's drunken driving statistics.

Twenty-one states impose longer license suspensions or revocations for first-time offenders, including eight states that have a 12-month mandatory suspension.

Forty-one states, including Maine, have administrative revocation laws associated with drunken driving, meaning a person's license is taken away even before conviction.

Before 2008, the minimum license suspension for a driver with two OUIs was 18 months. Fourteen states have longer sanctions.

Beginning in September 2008, Maine increased the minimum suspension for a second offense from 18 months to three years and a third offense from four to six years. That brought Maine near the top in minimum suspensions.

Twenty states have minimum licensing sanctions for drunken drivers with a high blood-alcohol level, but Maine is not one of them.

Advocates no longer believe suspending a driver's license for repeat OUI offenders deters drunken driving.

"You could throw the book at a repeat offender and it probably won't help," said Frank Harris, state legislative affairs manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "Interlocks are a better alternative because it forces them to drive sober."

Harris worked with Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, on a bill that creates an incentive to reduce the license suspension for convicted first-time drunken drivers who install interlock ignition devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the operator has any alcohol in his system.

As of Dec. 1, the license suspension period for a first offender would double to 180 days, unless the offender installs an interlock device. That would reduce the suspension to 30 days.

Nineteen other states already have similar laws, with most of them requiring interlock devices. Maine's law is optional.

"The interlock device is enormously successful. We've had it for years (for repeat offenders) and the recidivism rate is very low," said James Boulos, a defense attorney in Saco who specializes in drunken driving cases. "But I don't know that first-time offenders are going to bother. ... I think the devices are more effective in dealing with multiple offenders."

Under Maine law, a person can be convicted of operating under the influence three times in a 10-year period before he is required to install an interlock device.

A 2011 report by Mothers Against Drunk Driving ranked states on their drunken driving laws based on whether they met five criteria: requiring interlock devices for all offenders; conducting sobriety checkpoints; enhancing penalties for child endangerment; have no-refusal standards for field-sobriety tests; and utilizing administrative license revocation.

Only five states -- Kansas, Arizona, Illinois, Nebraska and Utah -- met all five criteria. Maine was one of 10 states that met four of five, falling short on the interlock device requirement. Five states -- Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana, Michigan and South Dakota -- met only one of the five criteria.

"I think Maine is still pretty tough," Boulos said.

Like most states, Maine statute does not have a provision to revoke a repeat offender's license for life.

New York state approved regulations last year that would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to permanently revoke a license for a motorist who has five DUIs, or driving under the influence convictions, in their lifetime, or three DUIs and a serious traffic offense within the past 25 years, but it appears to be the only state with a permanent revocation provision.

Florida had a similar law that was changed in 2010 to allow drivers with revoked licenses to reapply for a new license after 10 years.

"I'm in favor of lifetime revocation because we can predict that these people are a time bomb waiting to go off," Diamond said.

Maine also lags other states for reviewing repeat offenders' driving records. While a five- or 10-year review period for repeat offenses is the norm, there has been a trend in states toward a longer review period and, in some cases, a review of a repeat offender's entire record before allowing him to drive again. Massachusetts, for instance, recently adopted a lifetime review.

(Continued on page 4)

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Additional Photos

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A motorist walks a line while being assessed for sobriety at a checkpoint set up Friday on Route 1 in Brunswick by Cumberland County police assigned to the Regional Impaired Driving Enforcement, or RIDE, team. Maine records going back to 1982 show that nearly 15,000 people have at least three prior cases of operating under the influence.

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Brunswick Police Officer John Roma and other Cumberland County officers conduct sobriety checks Friday.

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Cumberland Police Officer Ryan Martin, below, conducts a field sobriety test Friday.

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Police cuff a drunken driving suspect.

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Today's poll: Drunk driving penalties

Should Maine have tougher penalties for people with multiple drunk driving convictions?



View Results