A proposal introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives would bring the standard for drunken boating in line with the benchmark for drunken driving on the road. The change, which has been considered in the past and but never enacted, is deserving of lawmakers’ approval.
The current blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit for watercraft operators is 0.10 percent. House Bill (HB) 4072, introduced by state Rep. Matt Lori (R-Constantine), seeks to lower that threshold to 0.08 percent, which would make it equivalent to the drunk driving threshold for operating an automobile.
Similar legislation has been proposed several times in previous legislative sessions.
The bill was initially proposed in direct response to the death of a 7-year-old boy on Donnell Lake in Cass County. The child was tubing when he was run down by a personal watercraft. The driver of the personal watercraft was found to have a BAC of between 0.08 and 0.09 percent.
Because he was under the legal 0.10 percent limit, the personal watercraft operator pleaded guilty to an offense punishable by up to two years in prison. If the drunken boating law at the time matched what’s currently in place for automobile drivers, the man would have a faced a penalty of 15 years in prison.
In 2007, a similar legislative proposal received the support of the Michigan State Police, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, the Michigan Boating Industries Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Those opposing the bills included the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it awaits a hearing.
We’re not aware of any good reason why the BAC limit for boating should be any different than the limit for operating a vehicle on the road. Our support for the proposal isn’t a case of hoping for more revenue for the state, law enforcement or the courts, but is based on concern about safety on the water.
More often than not, there’s no training or licensing required before operating a boat — another discrepancy with laws related to driving on the road that’s long overdue for a correction. Lack of required previous training, and the fact that boats have no braking system, make a 0.08 percent BAC limit for boaters a reasonable standard.
The notion that a boater with a BAC of 0.09 percent can kill somebody while on the water and face a penalty of just two years behind bars is offensive. For the sake of enhanced public safety and a better measure of justice, HB 4072 needs adoption.