A majority of the Senate shot down an attempt by state Sen. Bill Brown to make Oklahoma's lakes safer on Tuesday. Brown said he was extremely disappointed in his colleagues for putting recreation before safety.
"I was approached by both the Lake Eufaula Patrol and my fellow members of the Lake Eufaula Marina Association about strengthening Oklahoma's laws against driving a boat while intoxicated," said Brown, who owns a marina on Lake Eufaula. "These are people that work on the lakes and have seen firsthand the tragedy that can happen when people drive over the legal limit. I'm shocked that some of my fellow members are more concerned about people having a good time at the lake than being safe."
Brown tried to amend HB 3076 with language from his SB 1140 that was killed earlier this year in committee. The amendment was voted down 18 to 29. His amendment, which mirrored the state's current laws on driving under the influence (DUI) would have added convictions of boating while under the influence (BUI) to a person's driving record.
"I don't drink personally, but I have no problem with a person drinking as much as they want on the lake as long as they're not behind the wheel and putting other lives in danger," said Brown, R-Broken Arrow. "I just want people to be responsible when they're driving their boats."
Statewide there have been 66 alcohol-related accidents on Oklahoma lakes in the last five years and 29 of those resulted in death. Statistics from the National Conference of State Legislators also show that there were more water craft-related accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities caused by alcohol in our state in 2006 than over half the other states combined.
During his debate, Brown pointed to the fact that in the last 18 months alone there have been three alcohol-related fatalities and numerous injuries at Eufaula Lake. Last year, a young boy was literally run over by a drunk driver and killed and in another incident a drunk driver in a speed boat going an estimated 60 mph ran into a 52-foot house boat. A passenger in the speed boat was killed.
"What do I say after this shocking vote to those families who have lost loved ones because of the irresponsibility of others on lakes? And what about those individuals who are in jail for murder wishing they hadn't had quite so much fun at the lake but now it's too late," said Brown. "I want people to know that, for their safety and everyone else who comes across their path on the lake, they can't drive over the legal limit. They can sit in their boat all day long and drink, but just have a designated driver. The consequences are not worth it."
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.
"I just hope we don't have any more deaths on our lakes before I can reintroduce this legislation next year. I've had many calls from people in support of my bill and I hope those citizens and others will contact their legislators and demand that they help make our lakes safer."