State Senator Bill Brown wants to reduce the number of alcohol- and other intoxicating substance-related deaths and accidents on Oklahoma’s lakes and rivers. He hopes to do this through Senate Bill 1140 which would require a conviction of boating while under the influence (BUI) to be made part of an individual’s driving record.
“We already have this law in effect for people who drive motor vehicles while under the influence, why should it be any different for watercraft? They are just as dangerous as vehicles, if not more so,” said Brown, R-Broken Arrow. “Boating under the influence is illegal, but we need to add some teeth to the law because obviously the punishments are not harsh enough to stop people from loading up the ice chest and hitting the waves.”
Under the provisions of the bill, a BUI violation would be treated in a similar manner as a DUI offense for motor vehicles. Besides being made part of a person’s driving record, the BUI violation would also be taken into account for determining the punishment for multiple violations that could escalate to a penalty of a felony. Such a violation would also be considered when determining the requirement for undergoing a drug or alcohol evaluation program.
“People don’t seem to think about the effect alcohol has on them while on the water and research shows that the effects are much greater and more dangerous in the water than on land,” said Brown. “The effect of alcohol is magnified when on the water because an individual is dealing with dehydration and exposure to the sun, wind and waves.”
According to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, approximately one-third the amount of alcohol needed to reach a state of legal intoxication, which is ten-hundredths of a percent in a vessel, will cause symptoms of intoxication equal to a blood-alcohol level far exceeding the true measurable level. Those symptoms include poor coordination, delayed reaction time, difficulty in multi-tasking and inattention.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; accounting for nearly twenty percent of all reported fatalities. Nearly 150 people were killed in 2006 in alcohol-related boating accidents nationwide.
“In 2006, Oklahoma per capita had more water craft-related accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities stemming from alcohol use than over half of the other states,” said Brown. “Boating is big business in our state, just look at the fact that there are around 217,000 watercraft registered in Oklahoma. Going to the lake is a major pastime for Oklahomans and we need to put some teeth in our current laws to ensure that everyone has everyone has a safe and enjoyable time on the water.”
If approved by both chambers and signed by the Governor, the measure would go into effect November 1, 2008.