Boaters on Georgia lakes and rivers could be held to the same standards as automobile drivers under a proposal to reduce the legal blood alcohol limit for boating under the influence.
Boaters must have a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent to be charged, but drivers can be prosecuted with a level of 0.08.
Andy Johnson, a state hunter safety volunteer from Tallapoosa, is working to build statewide support for legislation that would make both numbers 0.08.
“This bill passed the House last year just one vote shy of a complete yea by all members,” he said. “But it has to pass the Senate this session before heading to the governor’s desk for signature.”
Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division promotes sobriety while boating as a way to prevent accidents and deaths.
“It is not illegal to have alcohol in an open container on a boat, nor is it illegal for a person operating a boat to drink, provided they are no less safe,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, the assistant chief of law enforcement for the Department of Natural Resources, in a news release last year. “However, if a person is over the age of 21 and has a blood alcohol content of .10 or higher, they are presumed to be less safe and may be charged with boating under the influence.”
Although there is a perception that operating a boat after consuming alcohol might not be as dangerous as driving a car, many accidents and fatalities in boats are linked to alcohol, Johnson said.
“There is also the issue of drinking on the water all day and then getting in a car and driving home,” he said, citing estimates that as many as 70 percent of recreational boaters end up driving home later that day.
The current proposal, House Bill 315, is awaiting committee action, he said, adding that two similar bills failed in both the House and Senate in the 2009-10 session.
People arrested for BUI can lose their privilege to operate a boat. These privileges are not reinstated until the successful completion of an approved Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program, according to current state regulations. The offender will be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $1,000 fine or up to 12 months in prison.