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Agencies united against unsafe boat operators

Special to The Post-Searchlight

Georgia officials are taking a stand against drunk driving, whether it be on the road or on the water.

Georgia’s new legal limits for boaters consuming alcohol took effect Wednesday, lowering the legally acceptable blood alcohol concentration for those behind the wheel of a boat in Georgia from .10 to .08.

The new alcohol limit for boaters matches laws for motorists on Georgia roads and increases the penalties for those boaters convicted for boating under the influence.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Nathan Deal joined officials from the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia State Patrol and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety on Lake Lanier to reaffirm state officials’ commitment to protecting Georgia residents from drunk drivers on both the waters and the roads as the new law for boaters takes effect.

“Our waterways are a great recreational resource for Georgia families, and the state took a serious step this year to keep people safe while having fun on our lakes and rivers,” Gov. Deal said. “Someone who’s had too much to drink has no business operating a boat. They put not only themselves but also innocent bystanders in mortal danger. We’re sending a strong signal that boating under the influence will not be tolerated, and we’ll work to prevent tragedies such as those we’ve seen in the past year.”

In 2012, five people died or were injured as a result of boaters who had too much to drink before operating a boat in Georgia.

Across the state, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has 200 law enforcement rangers patrolling state waterways. As the new regulations for boating under the influence come into effect, Col. Eddie Henderson, chief of DNR’s Law Enforcement Division, said those law enforcement rangers will be committed to enforcing the new rules and preventing BUI-related tragedies in Georgia.

“Operating a boat is as complicated as driving a car so you need to be able to think clearly and react quickly.  If you add alcohol impairment to the marine environment, which already can cause fatigue due to waves, engine noise, sun and wind, you are accelerating into a potentially hazardous situation,” said Henderson.  “The equalization of the boating legal limit to match the driving legal limit places additional emphasis to all boaters that this is an important issue and has been implemented to save lives and prevent incidents in the future.”

As the new blood alcohol concentration limit for boaters begins to match the limits for Georgia motorists, the Department of Natural Resources will join other state law enforcement officials in this year’s annual summer traffic enforcement campaign, “100 Days of Summer HEAT,” a multi-jurisdictional enforcement strategy designed to reduce fatal crash counts during the summer driving period.

The campaign lasts from Memorial Day through Labor Day, targeting motorists and boaters under the influence, as well as those engaging in other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, including driving at unsafe speeds or operating in a reckless manner.

“This period has often been called the ‘100 deadly days of summer’ and this program is designed to change that,” said Col. Mark McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety.  “State troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers will be fully involved in this summer-long campaign.”

Already, for 10 years, troopers with the Georgia State Patrol have been participating in the campaign to crack down on unsafe drivers over the summer holiday periods.

In 2012, that campaign took 5,924 drunk drivers off Georgia roads.

Officials kicked off the “Where the Rudder Meets the Road” tour on the 25th anniversary of a Carrollton, KY. bus crash that killed 27 people and injured 34. The crash, caused by a wrong-way drunk driver, was the deadliest crash attributable to drunk driving in U.S. history. It drew the nation’s attention to the dangers associated with impaired driving like never before.

“Over the last 25 years, with the efforts of law enforcement and the work of groups like MADD, we’ve made drunk driving an unacceptable practice in this country,” said Blackwood. “We must now do the same thing with boating under the influence, because, whether on the road or the water, drunk driving is a problem in Georgia.”