June 18, 2018
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Off-Road Drinking

It seems contradictory that someone can lose his driver’s license for driving drunk but not for using a snowmobile, boat or all-terrain vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. A bill currently being considered by lawmakers aims to equalize the situation. Because drunken boating, snowmobiling and ATV riding endanger the public, efforts to minimize this behavior are worth careful assessment.

State law now prohibits the operation of boats, snowmobiles and ATVs with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, the same standard as for motor vehicles. The fine for first-time offenders is a minimum of $400.

For repeat drunken drivers or those with other serious motor vehicle violations, judges can take away their driver’s license as part of their sentence. Since you don’t need a license to operate the off-road vehicles, this penalty can’t be assessed for the same violations on these vehicles.

In LD 712, Rep. Susan Austin, R-Gray, proposes to give judges the option to suspend the driver’s licenses of those convicted of operating an ATV, snowmobile or boat while drunk.

Currently, prosecutors can bring up off-road violations when urging judges to hand down longer sentences and license suspensions in drunken driving cases. This bill would change the situation so judges wouldn’t have to wait for a drunken driving incident to take away the license of someone who puts the public in danger by boating, ATVing or snowmobiling while intoxicated.

At a hearing on the bill this week, Col. Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service told members of the Criminal Justice Committee that impaired operators of boats, ATVs and snowmobiles are often still impaired when they put those vehicles on a trailer and drive home. A work session on the bill is scheduled for today.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, rightly points out that there are few documented snowmobile accidents involving alcohol. The group’s message to not drink and ride is largely being heeded, but in the rare cases where it is not, giving judges another tool to punish these offenders is reasonable.

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