Nearly 7 percent of Maine drivers have had their licenses suspended five or more times, and more than 23,000 have had their licenses suspended at least 10 times, according to state estimates.
There are about 984,000 people with Maine licenses, and nearly 68,000 of them have had their licenses suspended at least five times, the Secretary of State’s office estimated. The office estimated that more than 8,000 drivers have had their licenses suspended 15 times or more.
The issue of bad driving records has come to the forefront following a July 29 fatal accident on Interstate 95 in Hallowell involving a trucker who was driving on a suspended license and whose record includes at least 42 driving convictions and 19 license suspensions.
The driver, 32-year-old Scott Hewitt of Caribou, was arrested again last weekend in Presque Isle and charged with operating after suspension, illegal attachment of license plates, having an unregistered vehicle, failure to provide insurance and violation of bail conditions that were set after he was charged following the fatal crash.
State officials are asking how many other people with records similar to Hewitt’s are on the road, and what can be done to stop them.
“There are hundreds of Scott Hewitts out there, and unfortunately under state law, they are out driving after suspension,” said state Sen. William Diamond, D-Windham, a former secretary of state.
“The law should give the secretary of state the authority to take away these licenses for five or 10 years, and if they keep driving, those people should be put in jail.”
Driving after suspension is becoming recognized as a serious national problem. Drivers without a valid license are involved in more than 20 percent of fatal accidents, but make up less than 8 percent of all drivers, according to a report commissioned by the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety.
“Suspended drivers are over-involved in fatal crashes and we think they may be causing them,” said Robert Scopatz, a Texas-based data analyst who co-authored the report. “Right now, it’s second to alcohol, but there is some evidence that it is growing.”
Maine statistics are estimates based on a review of computerized records that go back to the 1970s.
Not all the drivers with a high number of suspensions are threats on Maine’s roads, said Doug Dunbar, deputy Secretary of State. Some could be in jail or moved out of state, and others may have accumulated suspensions when they were young and have gone many years without violating any laws, he said.
Under Maine law, licenses can be suspended for one-time violations of serious offenses, such as drunken driving or eluding a police officer, or for an accumulation of minor offenses, which are added up on the state’s point system. A driver who gets 12 points within a year is suspended for at least 15 days, with a speeding ticket worth six points.
Suspensions almost always last for a set period and licenses are automatically restored at the end. There is no permanent license revocation in Maine, except for vehicular homicide when the driver was operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Somebody could have 15 suspensions for (minor) offenses, but they all point to a disregard for the law,” said Col. Craig Poulin of the Maine State Police. “People who obey the law are more likely to be considerate, safer drivers…It’s almost a no-brainer.”
Diamond said the Legislature should look at driving records and develop a profile of those who pose the most serious threat. The worst offenders should face lengthy, even permanent, revocation of driving privileges, and those who insist on driving while on suspension should face additional consequences, he said.
“We shouldn’t wait until there is another fatality,” he said. “If they have a record that shows complete disregard for the law, they need to spend some time in jail.”
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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