In Maine, in 2012, which is the last year official statistics are available, 49 people died in car accidents in which one of the drivers was drinking. Of those, 7 were underage and shouldn’t have been drinking at all.

That was 30 percent of the 162 fatalities in car accidents for that year, representing a 113 percent increase over the year before. But that percentage was still about average for the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In addition to the deaths, there were 843 crash- related injuries, and 1,196 crashes, owed in part to the use of alcohol. It cost taxpayers $274 million in first responder, emergency medical, prosecution, and incarceration for the 49 fatalities, an average of $5.6 million per death.

There were a thousand better ways to spend that money.

More than 7,000 people were arrested for driving while intoxicated in 2012, and more than 4,000 were convicted.

Then, in 2013, Maine became the 20th state to enact a voluntary alloffender ignition interlock law. What the law does is place ignition locks that require a blow test on the cars of OUI offenders. In order to start the car, the OUI offender has to give himself or herself a sobriety test.

As of today, including a doublefatal accident that just occurred in Leeds, there were 127 fatal accidents in Maine for 2014, the lowest number since the 1940s, according to Lauren Stewart of the Bureau of Highway Safety.

There are other factors, of course. Cars have more safety features today than in previous years. Young drivers have more restrictions on their licenses than they had previously. Until recently, the high price of gas dissuaded a lot of joyriding. We don’t know for sure how many people were stopped from driving because of a sobriety device on their ignition, and we don’t know how many lives were saved.

An offender with one OUI offense can have all but 30 days of his or her driving privilege reinstated by installing the device. With two offenses, a person must serve 9 months of the suspension, and with three offenses, a person must serve 3 years of the suspension. The cost of installing and paying for the machine is considerable, and must be borne by the offender. There are also costs to having one’s license reinstated, and probably, there are legal fees as well. Insurance costs will rise after a conviction. Drunk driving is not a cheap thrill.

Offenders have to voluntarily participate in the program; of course, the “stick” of losing a license, a fine, or jail time is an incentive to get one. And not everyone who petitions the Secretary of State’s office will be granted one.

However, it is another valuable tool in the law enforcement arsenal against drunk driving in Maine.

Many of us will choose to go out tonight and enjoy time with friends, dancing, and yes, drinking. Please remember to choose a designated driver who will not be drinking for the ride home. If you are hosting a party, provide nonalcoholic drinks, plenty of food, and a place to sleep if one of your guests imbibes too much. Don’t be afraid to take the keys if no one in the party is capable of driving safely.

And drive defensively; you may be stone cold sober, but the driver weaving across the intersection may not be. Make sure you are wearing your seatbelt and pay close attention to what is going on around you.

We want to see you in the new year. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.