With so many Arkansans hitting the many waterways of Arkansas this Labor day, boaters should be reminded of the new state law that says being intoxicated while driving a boat is as serious as driving a car while impaired.
Arkansas State Senator Jimmy Hickey saw a problem with drinking and boat driving so he filed the Senate Bill 81, with co-sponsors including state Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs; and Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs. The bill, which made changes to the DWI law and related measures, was supported by other victims of drunken-boating accidents.
The bill passed 34-0 in the Senate and 97-0 in the House this spring, and is now Act 299 of 2015. It became effective July 22.
Before the act became law, a boating while intoxicated or boating under the influence offense would be mentioned on an offender’s driving record and could be considered by a judge in sentencing in future DWI or DUI offenses. A boating while intoxicated offense now requires suspension of a violator’s driver’s license and vehicle registration, the same penalty as a DWI in a car.
The law requires license suspension periods for driving or boating while intoxicated within a five-year period as follows: six months for a first offense, 24 months for a second offense, 30 months for a third offense and 48 months for a fourth offense.
Alcohol was the leading factor in 21 percent of all fatal boating accidents in 2014, according to Coast Guard figures. That’s despite alcohol being a factor in only 12 percent of overall boating accidents, figures show.
Penalties for those convicted start at 24 hours to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense. A second offense can bring imprisonment of seven days to one year and a fine up to $3,000. The third offense can result in imprisonment of 90 days to one year and a fine of up to $5,000. A fourth offense is a felony punishable by imprisonment up to six years and a fine of up to $5,000.
So boaters should think twice before celebrating Labor day boating under the influence.