As we all most likely know, the majority of recreational boating accidents and fatalities occur in the summer months. This comes as no surprise as the number of recreational vessels on the nation’s waterways drastically increases during the warm weather months. There are countless causes and scenarios that lead to boating accidents, but all too often they are preventable. Looking at statistics gathered by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for a 30-year time frame sheds light on the many ways to decrease the likelihood of recreational boating accidents.
In 2013 alone, 4,062 boating accidents were reported to the USCG. Of those accidents, 2,620 resulted in injuries and 560 resulted in death. Although these numbers are high, all three categories were down by more than 10 percent from 2012. Of the 2013 fatalities where cause of death was known, 77 percent were due to drowning. Although this may seem commonsensical – that fatalities on the water are often due to drowning – consider that 84 percent of those victims were not wearing a life jacket. As the name implies, life jackets are as important of a lifesaving tool on the water as seatbelts are on the roadways. It is imperative that life jacket use become common practice when on the water.
Another preventable trend that has remained nearly constant in the USCG data is that alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents year to year. Despite campaigns from the USCG and many state and local agencies aimed at educating the public about the dangers of boating under the influence, accidents involving alcohol continue to be the leading factor in boating fatalities. Alabama law enforcement agencies in recent years have joined an initiative called “Operation Dry Water.” This program was established to educate the public of the laws against boating under the influence (BUI) and also placed an emphasis on enforcing those laws. Much like the DUI laws in Alabama, a boater with a blood alcohol concentration percentage greater than .08 is considered over the legal limit. The penalties for those convicted of BUI include fines from $600 to $2,100, up to one year of jail time and/or a 90-day suspension of his or her operator’s license for a first offense. The penalties stiffen if convicted of multiple offenses. Interestingly, if an operator older than 21 is convicted of BUI with a child younger than 14 in the vessel, the minimum punishments are automatically doubled. Alabama law enforcement has taken appropriate measures to address the serious problem of boating under the influence and the deadly results it can cause.
Unfortunately, lawmakers and law enforcement can only do so much. One would hope stiff penalties and persistent enforcement would make boaters think twice before operating a vessel under the influence. However, all too often these laws are not heeded. In Texas, state game wardens arrested 60 boaters for operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs in a single weekend earlier this month. Despite penalties for BUI increasing in recent years and many campaigns launched to raise awareness of the dangers, too often the general public seems to either not appreciate or not care about the dangers boating and alcohol pose.
Statistics help quantify what is readily apparent to most. Just as stats related to automobile fatalities show a significant link to alcohol use, the same goes for the waterways. Unfortunately, in both situations, it is not always about the choices you make, but the decisions of the drivers and boaters you share the roads and waterways with as well. If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firms Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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