Under a new Georgia law that goes into effect today, a person driving a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 will be charged with boating under the influence. That level is the same as for someone driving a car.
"It's about time," said Corporal Mitchell Oliver, a conservation ranger with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "It's a shame that it took so long for it to happen."
The BUI level in Alabama is already .08.
The catalyst for the change from the previous level of .10 was an accident last year on Lake Lanier in which two boys from Buford, Ga., died. Oliver said the incident received a lot of media attention.
"I was glad to see Gov. (Nathan) Deal make this law change a priority in the last meeting of the legislature," said Oliver.
Other laws which go into effect, require anyone under 13 in a moving boat to be wearing a life vest. "Another good law," said Oliver. "The old law was under 10."
Parents need to make sure the life vest fits well, he added.
Also, Oliver said, anyone born on Jan. 1 1998 or later who plans to drive a boat needs to take a boater education course.
The new blood alcohol law is primarily for the driving of motorized vehicles but also sailboats. It could even apply to canoes, though, Oliver said he has never seen one of those enforced.
"Whether on the road or on the water, drunk driving is a problem in Georgia," Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, said in a news release. "In the last year, we've become more aware than ever of the dangers of getting behind the wheel of a boat under the influence of alcohol, and we plan to attack it the same way we have drunk driving on the road."
The rule takes affect the day after the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states lower the DUI threshold from .08 to .05.
"Over the last 25 years, with the efforts of law enforcement and the work of groups like MADD, we've made drunk driving an unacceptable practice in this country," said Blackwood. "We must now do the same thing with boating under the influence."
Last year, five people died or were injured as a result of boaters who had too much to drink before operating their vessels in Georgia.
Across the state, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has 200 law enforcement rangers patrolling state waterways. As the new regulations for boating under the influence come into effect, Col. Eddie Henderson, chief of DNR's Law Enforcement Division, said those law enforcement rangers will be committed to enforcing the new rules and preventing BUI-related tragedies in Georgia.
"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," Henderson said in a news release.
"The equalization of the boating legal limit to match the driving legal limit places additional emphasis to all boaters that this is an important issue and has been implemented to save lives and prevent incidents in the future."