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 dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 4)

Today's poll: Drunk driving penalties

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

Yes

No

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
 
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With slightly more than 1 million licensed drivers in Maine, the number of drivers with multiple OUIs has startled some in law enforcement.

The bureau's electronic database includes people from out of state who were charged in Maine and people who no longer drive either because they gave it up or, in some cases, died.

The number of people currently under suspension in Maine for OUI -- whether licensed in Maine or out of state -- is 35,145.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who oversees the state's licensing, said the key to reducing alcohol-related fatalities is for individual drivers to examine their own behavior.

"You read the narrative of events around some of these tragedies and you want to scream, 'Don't get in the car. Don't do it,"' he said. "There's the inevitable collision. Someone is paralyzed, someone is killed, someone loses a father or daughter. It's terrible."

Passing increasingly severe penalties yields diminishing returns, he said.

"You've got to get people to believe when we talk about the faceless menace of a drunk driver, we have to consider the possibility that that's us," Dunlap said. "We are that driver. Then you have to do the necessary things to make sure you don't become that headline and that's very, very difficult."

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said that if someone has a valid license, the state has found that, in a legal sense, that person is safe to drive.

"Of course, someone with multiple OUIs is a safety concern and that's why it's very important that that person receive treatment, if the OUI is alcohol-related, for alcohol dependency, because at that point it's clear the person has a problem with alcohol," she said.

While penalties are important, addressing the underlying problem is essential, she said. That is more effective than suspending someone's license, since the person has already shown a willingness to break the law.

"As much as possible I want to give people the opportunity to turn their life around, but if someone has three or more OUIs, then at that point it is necessary for the person to complete a treatment program to deal with the underlying problem or we could have a fatality in the future," Maloney said.

Criminal sanctions work for a large percentage of the population, said Dr. Mark Publicker, head of the Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook. But alcohol impairs judgment and the ability to regulate behavior, and that includes the decision to drink and drive.

In some cases, stopping people from drinking can be more effective than trying to stop them from driving.

"Alcoholism is a chronic illness that requires chronic attention and some form of reinforcement of sobriety," Publicker said, noting that Alcoholics Anonymous has the best rate of long-term success. "At the point where the person no longer believes they have a problem is when drinking is going to express itself."

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com

 

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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?

Yes

No

View Results