Florida is a water lover’s paradise because it is surrounded by water and filled with numerous lakes and rivers. Fishing, swimming, skiing and boating are all popular activities for both tourists and year-round residents. However, any type of water recreation can be dangerous when alcohol is involved.
Deaths from boating accidents – including those where alcohol was a factor – were actually down across the U.S. in 2013, except in Florida. There are nearly 880,000 registered vessels in Florida. Among states with more than 300,000, the Sunshine State has the highest boating fatality rate of 6.7 people per 100,000.
In 2014, there were almost 70 boating accidents reported in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Eight of the boating accidents resulted in deaths. Many of the accidents were attributed to the use of alcohol, which is why Florida lawmakers are considering stiffening the penalties for boating under the influence.
State Representative Gayle Harrell recently filed a bill that would make boating under the influence legally the same as driving under the influence. Right now in Florida, a BUI appears on a criminal record but not on a driving record. With the proposed law, penalties would be the same regardless of what type of vehicle someone was operating.
The other two states that have more than 800,000 registered vehicles, California and Minnesota, both already have laws in place similar to the one Harrell has proposed.
For first-time offenders of DUI in Florida, there is a fine of $500 to $1,000. A second offense is double that amount plus a possible jail term of up to nine months. In addition, an ignition interlock device could be placed on their vehicle.
According to law enforcement, the number of boating accidents involving alcohol actually might be much more than what is reported.
“Many times officers aren’t there when an accident actually happened,” said Lt. Seth Morgan of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Boating and Waterways Section. “So you’ll wind up with the situation where no one can remember who was driving, or there’s four people on the boat and none of them will say which one was operating it.”
Morgan, who is in charge of compiling boating accident statistics for the FWC, is in favor of the legislation.
“I think that would give people more pause before deciding to drink and then operate the boat,” he said. “Just anchor the boat or have someone who’s a designated driver, which is obviously the preferred method.”
Harrell’s bill is right now in a House subcommittee. If it passes, it could become law as early as July of this year.
People who act carelessly and cause accidents that harm others should be held accountable for their negligent behavior. People who have been seriously injured in such accidents may have a legal right to file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for their losses.
If you have been injured in a boating accident caused by another boater, have a personal injury attorney at Disparti Law Group review the accident at no charge and explain your legal rights.