There is no excuse for driving drunk

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Former acting director of the State Planning Office, Richard Swanson Jr., was arrested in Waterville late Monday night and charged with operating under the influence.

In explaining himself to the Waterville Sentinel, Swanson acknowledged he “blew a 0.11 (blood-alcohol level),” but reminded the reporter that “there was a time when that wasn’t even over the limit.”

Yep. The law changed 23 years ago.

And, so what?

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The current blood-alcohol limit is 0.08 percent, so “blowing” a 0.11 is driving drunk and a violation of state law, and for Swanson — a state official until Tuesday — to offer such a weak excuse is inexcusable.

One might argue that the 0.08 percent BAC is an arbitrary legal threshold, but it certainly seems reasonable, since accepted research proves that coordination decreases at that level, impairing our ability to drive safely.

We have no idea how much Swanson weighs, but a 160-pound man reaches a BAC of 0.11 percent somewhere between four and five drinks in an hour. For a 200-pound man, BAC measures 0.11 percent somewhere between six and seven drinks.

By any measure, that’s too much to consume and drive.

At the request of Gov. Paul LePage, Swanson resigned his post in state government and will have an opportunity to respond to the criminal charge in district court in May.

The court of public opinion, however, has already reached its verdict.

Alcohol is legal for anyone over 21 years old, and there’s no reason a person of legal age shouldn’t drink as they please. However, with so many options available to people to avoid getting behind the wheel after a few drinks — designated drivers or cab rides among them — there is no acceptable excuse for driving drunk.

Fortunately, Swanson didn’t injure anyone, but it’s worth noting that, according to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, “drunk driving causes more deaths and injuries than any other violent crime.”

In Maine, since 1995, more than 700 people have died in car accidents in which at least one of the drivers had a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thousands more have been injured.

That’s a lot of pain and destruction.

As one person commented on the Sentinel report on Swanson’s resignation, “It really is quite simple to avoid being arrested for OUI. Don’t drive at all if you have been drinking.”

Precisely.

Let’s remember that OUI laws are not enforced solely to punish drunk drivers. They’re enforced to protect the rest of us traveling along our roads.

? ? ?

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services received 25 fresh reports of possible welfare fraud Monday, all received through the agency’s online reporting portal.

The reports, the Sun Journal was told, were prompted by our coverage in Sunday’s newspaper of widespread abuse of our welfare system and electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.

We thank you for reading that coverage, with special thanks to those who took the time to report potential fraud.

In case you missed it, the reporting hot line is 1-866-348-1129 or www.maine.gov/fraud.

Every time someone defrauds DHHS, they are stealing public funds. Taxpayers have an obligation to each other to protect their collective tax money and report possible fraud.

If you know something, do your part to report it.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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