EDITORIAL: State Rep. Maher let us down with DUI arrest
Let’s not beat around the bush: State Rep. John Maher has let us down.
It was revealed over the weekend that the veteran lawmaker who represents Peters Township, Upper St. Clair and part of Bethel Park in the state legislature was arrested last month in East Pennsboro Township near the state capital for driving under the influence. And according to court records, Maher wasn’t just a little bit intoxicated – about an hour after he was pulled over for making an illegal U-turn while driving the wrong way on a bypass, his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.184 percent, more than twice the legal limit.
The officer who pulled Maher over stated that when the 58-year-old state representative got out of his vehicle, he almost fell into him “while trying to stop walking,” and engaged in a peculiar back-and-forth with the officer at the hospital, challenging the validity of his signature on the form allowing them to draw blood. The officer said in an affidavit, “Maher was about to sign and then looked at my signature and questioned whether it was my real signature or not. Maher told me that if he worked at CVS, he would not accept my signature.”
For whatever reason, CVS was on Maher’s mind that night – he initially told the officer when he was pulled over that he was on his way to the drugstore.
The Upper St. Clair Republican should be accorded the same presumption of innocence as other people who are accused of breaking the law. His office also indicated a statement on the arrest might be forthcoming, but, at least as of last week, none has appeared.
Maher has shown himself to be a moderate, fair-minded and adept legislator. But this incident is an embarrassment to him and his constituents.
Various laws punishing drivers for operating their vehicles under the influence have been on the books since before Henry Ford’s assembly lines allowed vehicles to be manufactured on a large scale. Driving while under the influence has not always been accorded the seriousness it deserves, however. In 1980, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) came into being, a little more than 21,000 Americans were killed every year in drunken driving accidents. That number has since been halved. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a little more than 10,000 Americans were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2015, half the number from 35 years before.
There is now much greater acknowledgment that driving while impaired is not something to be laughed off. Moreover, the threshold for legal intoxication has been lowered, and the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 in the 1980s. Still, 29 percent of traffic-related deaths in the United States are a result of drunken driving. That’s still too high.
And Maher is lucky he did not become part of these grim statistics.
The citizens Maher represents have the right to expect better of him.