With the Fourth of July quickly approaching, just a few words of caution: Don’t boat and drive. Around this time of year, and particularly during the summertime, Georgia residents are often warned about the dangers of operating fireworks. Holidays like the Fourth are also accompanied by the usual admonitions regarding drinking and driving. Pretty much everyone is aware of the penalties for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. What many fail to realize, however, it that a boat is a vehicle too and boating accidents have the potential to be just as dangerous as car accidents.
During the summer, the weather is often deemed to be perfect for activities like fishing, swimming and jet-skiing. Lake Lanier is one extremely popular spot – which explains why it has also been the site of several major boating accidents. In 2012, five people died or were injured as a result of boaters who had too much to drink before operating a boat in Georgia. Often the accidents resulted because people become so careless in the midst of their drinking and reveling that they fail to exercise due care. The state of Georgia has its own set of safety regulations regarding boating, and while they aren’t given quite as much publicity as traffic laws, they are just as important and apply to the operation of all watercrafts, including skis, motor boats, sailboats, and even surfboards.
Government officials, who have always touted a zero tolerance policy for alcohol violations, seem to have recently gotten on board with this idea — as demonstrated by a new law went into effect in May of this year. The law, intended to crack down on drunken boat driving, officially lowered the blood alcohol concentration (B.A.C.) limit for Georgia boaters and increasing the penalties for boating under the influence. The new alcohol limit is now the same as that for motorists (.08) and was passed by Governor Nathan Deal.
In a press release from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Georgia, Deal opined that, “Someone who’s had too much to drink has no business operating a boat. They put not only themselves but also innocent bystanders in mortal danger. We’re sending a strong signal that boating under the influence will not be tolerated, and we’ll work to prevent tragedies such as those we’ve seen in the past year.”
Col. Eddie Henderson, chief of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division, expanded on Deal’s rationale in his own statement, in which he reaffirmed officials’ commitment to enforcing the law, saying, “Operating a boat is as complicated as driving a car so you need to be able to think clearly and react quickly. If you add alcohol impairment to the marine environment, which already can cause fatigue due to waves, engine noise, sun and wind, you are accelerating into a potentially hazardous situation.”
Under the Georgia Boat Safety Act, BUI laws apply only to boaters on public channels, which means that places like Lake Lanier, Lake Oconee, Lake Allatoona, and Lake Burton are all fair game. Moreover, in Georgia, probable cause isn’t required for law enforcement officers to stop a watercraft and conduct a safety check. This is good news for those hoping to enjoy recreational activities on Georgia’s waterways in the upcoming weeks.