Illinois Lawmakers Consider Stricter Penalties for Boating DUI

Water accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on several bills in Illinois Congress that would significantly increase penalties for people who operate boats while intoxicated. The series of measures would, among other provisions, require those convicted of a boating DUI to have their driver’s license suspended as well.

That bill is sponsored by a state senator representing Deerfield, whose ten-year-old nephew was recently struck and killed by an intoxicated boater. The fifth grader was tubing on Petite Lake, part of the Chain O’Lakes in the northern area of the state, at the time of the accident. He fell off the inner tube into the water and was suddenly, unexpectedly run over by a boater who had high amounts of both alcohol and cocaine in his system (his BAC was between .09 and .128).

Authorities charged the 50-year-old boater with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence. He was sentenced earlier in 2013 and is now serving ten years in prison. The man was previously arrested for operating a boat under the influence, in 1996, and is now facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed the family of the little boy.

A large number of boating DUI arrests are made on the Chain O’Lakes each year, and many residents of that area are not too happy about the new legislations, which they believes punishes everyone for the bad decisions of a few. More than 200 people showed up in suburban Chicago in August when lawmakers announced a hearing of the bill.

A second proposed bill would require Illinois residents born on or before January 1, 1990 to complete a boating safety course. Potential boaters would have to receive certification from the state Department of Natural Resources before operating a water craft at all. Presently, only children aged 12 to 18 are required to have a safety certificate before driving a boat not accompanied by a parent or another adult.

The third bill would require boaters to have an orange flag flying toward the back of the watercraft when they are towing a person, such as when children are tubing or waterskiing. The flag would need to go up as soon as the person enters the water and displayed until they return to the watercraft.

The director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stated that he fully supports water-based recreation of all kinds, but when alcohol or illegal substances are added, the mixture is often disastrous. He reminded the public that so far in 2013, over 50 people have been arrested for boating DUIs just on the Chain O’Lakes alone.

Last year, there were over 205 arrests throughout the state, 100 of which occurred on the Chain. The director noted that he and his Department are in full support of all three proposed bills. An Illinois Conservation Police Sergeant stated that suspending boating DUI offenders’ driver’s license would be a major deterrent and make a big difference in state water safety. Others think one has nothing to do with the other, and believe the law would place undue burdens on the boating community.

Communities throughout the Great Lakes region are proposing legislation and grassroots changes to make public waterways safer for everyone. The Coast Guard in Ohio, for example, recently released public news alerts reminding the public that hunting season has begun in the Great Lakes.

Every year hunters and fishers throughout the Midwest find themselves in danger or in need of assistance on the water, particularly as the weather cools down and winter months ensue. The Coast Guard released the following tips to help minimize the risk to hunters and fishers: first, never overload your boat, and don’t forget to account for all gear (and animals) you’ll be transporting; second, minimize movement around the vessel – capsizing small boats accounts for about 70% of all boating fatalities; third, know the weather forecast, and tell a trusted person where you are going and when you plan to return; lastly, ensure you have a way to call for help if need be, and in an emergency, stay with your vessel, never attempt to “swim for it.”

Of course, it should go without saying that you should never operate a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Accidents happen unexpectedly and very quickly, and having your wits about you could make all the difference. Boating accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience working with families of those seriously injured in waterway accidents, and are currently accepting cases from potential clients nationwide.

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