By ANDY M. JOHNSON - Special to The Telegraph
With the most recent blast of Arctic air, it’s hard to comprehend that in just a few short months we’ll see boat trailers hitched to pickups signaling a start for many in our community to make their way back to the lakes, rivers and coast to enjoy mother nature’s aquatic paradises here in Georgia.
Whether it’s the chance to land that big “lunker,” a shot to finally stay upright slaloming, or just a leisurely cruise around the shoreline, the water presents wonderful times for us all to enjoy. Yet we all know about dangers on the water, some we readily notice while others remain hidden until it’s too late. Some dangers can’t be all together avoided, but as for the leading cause for boating fatalities in Georgia, citizens can make a profound impact upon and improve water sports safety with one simple action.
“Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2010 recreational boating accident statistics, and while that fact is sobering enough, we should realize that Georgia remains one of the final holdouts with our boating under the influence laws where our state allows the operator of a boat to be more intoxicated and remain legal than what our law already considers someone drunk while driving on our state roads.
In the Peach State BUI (Boating Under The Influence) is deemed at 0.10 blood alcohol content, whereas on our roadways you are DUI (Driving Under The Influence) at the lower 0.08 BAC level. Couple the legality of allowing a boater to be in a more drunken stupor to the fact that a boat’s motion, vibration and engine noise as well as sun, wind and spray all make the effects of alcohol and drugs seem more intense.
Readers should also know that someone operating a boat with a BAC of more than 0.10 percent is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than someone driving a boat while sober. But it’s not just the person consuming excess amounts of alcohol that is in danger. Consider the bass fisherman looking for his lunker under a narrow bridge gap. What about that skier that has fallen and all you can see is their head bobbing with the waves, or that slow-moving pontoon easing out from behind a dock? BUI affects everyone on the water.
We’ve all heard the proponent’s claims that three beers will take you over 0.08 BAC, but that is simply false. Let us consider one of the most widely used BAC estimate calculators where it figures a male subject, of about 215 pounds, drinking six lite beers in a period of one hour would have a estimated BAC of 0.062. As you can see, to reach even the lower 0.08 BAC limit one has to overindulge with alcohol to a point to where it’s excessive and intentional.
To have to reach 0.10 BAC is absurd and we should rally together to have our state’s Under-The-Influence statutes with boating to mirror that of our Under-The- Influence driving. Here’s where you can help. Currently, Georgia House Bill 315 awaits debate in the state’s Senate Natural Resources Committee. This bill simply lowers the BAC for boating under the influence from its currently 0.10 BAC to the favored 0.08 BAC. This bill passed the house last year just one vote shy of passing. But it has to pass the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk for signature and backing from the citizen majority is needed to make this possible.
If you love our state waters, if you love enjoying your time on the lakes, river and along the coast, please take time to support HB 315 by writing, phoning or e-mailing your local state senator asking that they push for the passage of this bill. Also, please take 10 seconds to e-mail Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Ross Tolleson at [email protected], asking that he please allow debate of this bill and support its passage. Best of times on the water this year and thanks for helping make Georgia a safer state for all to enjoy.
Andy M. Johnson is a resident of Tallapoosa.