AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine law enforcement and public safety officials, highlighting a national enforcement effort Wednesday, appealed for motorists to exercise common sense by avoiding operating under the influence – driving after drinking.

The campaign – dubbed “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit-Under Arrest” – is part of a national effort organized by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Each year, coordinated by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, federal funds are used for a special program from mid-June to mid-September in which state and local police seek to target impaired drivers. July and August are normally the deadliest months for motor vehicle crashes, officials said.

“Getting an OUI … follows you for the rest of your life,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told reporters at a State House news conference.

Among those joining Dunlap were Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara and the state police chief, Col. Craig Poulin.

According to statistics presented by Cantara, 31 percent of Maine’s 194 highway deaths in 2004 involved alcohol. Fatalities fell to 169 in 2005, but 32.5 percent were alcohol-related, Cantara said.

The highest number of highway deaths in Maine was 276 in 1970 while the lowest number in modern history was 166 in 1982.

Officials say alcohol-related fatalities hit an all-time high of 60 percent in 1981 before a steady decline began.

Maine’s all-time low was 19 percent in 2002, but the percentage has been rising.

Cantara noted that “impaired driving” may be a product of the use of drugs, either legal or illegal, as well as alcohol.

Officials say that in 2004 there were 9,573 people arrested in Maine for OUI-related offenses. Nearly 19 percent of those arrested were between the ages of 15 and 20, officials said.

Dunlap said Wednesday that the same cautions on drinking should be observed by canoeists and operators of snowmobiles and ATVs.


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