Driving drunk is reckless whether you are driving a car or a watercraft - A Call to Action
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The same reckless mindset is at work when an intoxicated individual takes the wheel of the car or control of a watercraft. We contend that the State law should reflect the seriousness of Boating-under-the-influence (BUI) offenses, in a manner consistent with the laws governing DUI offenses. Please help us encourage our law makers to develop a framework that helps protect Californians on our waterways.
Last year, my wife was hit by a drunk boater while she was riding in an inner-tube. My children and I watched in slow motion as the speeding boat went over the top of her and continued on its path. The accident resulted in a severe traumatic brain injury (grade III diffuse axonal injury), leaving her in a coma. The doctors offered little hope. At the four week mark, our five year old son asked me if Mama was ever coming home. I told him I didn't know. The look on his face was calm but hollow. This was rock bottom.
For two long months she remained in a coma, eventually regaining consciousness. She remained in the hospital for an additional four months; six in total. Her recovery has been characterized as nothing short of miraculous however she is left with cognitive and physical deficits. Still, she is home and the children have their Mama. Not everyone is so lucky.
Boating under the influence is a serious public safety problem. The issue does not get a lot of airtime however the fact is intoxicated boaters can cause devastating and at times, catastrophic accidents. In a report from the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, roughly 40% of boating-related fatalities involved alcohol. When things go wrong on the water, things go very wrong
One might assume that receiving a BUI is comparable to a DUI in the eyes of the law. In fact it is not. By way of background, from the mid-90's until 2008, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) operated under the assumption that they had the authority to suspend the drivers licenses of individuals who were found guilty of boating under the influence (consistent with the treatment for those guilty of a DUI). This practice was challenged in a class action lawsuit brought by previous BUI offenders. The DMV argued that a suspension is appropriate because a person who is likely to be Boating under the influence is also likely to drive after drinking. Ultimately the California Courts sided with the BUI offenders, indicating that the DMV did not have the written authority. The DMV practice of suspending licenses for BUI offenses was ended and the State had to PAY the offenders a $5.6 million settlement. As it turns out, the DMV's thought process was not flawed…the plaintiffs in case BOTH had histories of DUI convictions. Wow.
Help us follow the court’s recommendation by "introducing legislation such as that drafted by the DMV in 2004, which would plainly give the DMV the authority to suspend driver's licenses for individuals convicted of BUI."
In our view, the most direct path is to utilize a previously proposed senate bill (SB-154 (Benoit)) which addressed this very topic. When introduced, the Bill had broad support from CA Senate members as well as the following groups:
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains California
- California District Attorneys Association
- Boating Safety Officers Association
- California Marine Parks and Harbors Association
- California State Sheriffs' Association
- California Yacht Brokers Association
- Marina Recreation Association
- Northern California Marine Association
- Western Boaters Safety Group
As a vocal advocate for boating safety, we encourage Senator Monning and Senator Glazer to reintroduce the bill and champion this initiative.
I look forward to speaking with you in the future.
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