Summer on the waters of Washington State means getting boats out of dry dock, picturesque white sails dotting the horizon, and flotillas of vessels grouped together to celebrate our spectacular weather. However, as of July 28, 2013, the Washington State Legislature has empowered law enforcement to crack down even more on boaters that operate their vessels under the influence.
According to Washington State Park data, alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of boating fatalities. Senate Bill 5437, signed by Governor Inslee on May 16, 2013, creates stiffer penalties for boating under the influence (“BUI”) and expands prior BUI laws to include offenses for operating while under the influence of marijuana. Boaters should be aware of the following new changes:
- Per the revisions to RCW 79A.60.040, the penalty for BUI is no longer a misdemeanor (which carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000.00.) Boaters will now face gross misdemeanor charges for BUI, which means a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.00.
- Boat operators are deemed to have given implied consent to have their breath or blood tested for the concentration of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs in their system, subject to RCW 46.61.506. If the operator refuses to take the test, they will be issued a class 1 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120 that carries a penalty of $1,000.00.
- Law enforcement officers are authorized to issue citations when investigating boating accidents, or, perform an arrest for violations of any criminal statutes.
- Operating a vessel without the proper safety equipment may result in citations for both the owner and operator of the vessel
In essence, the new laws allow law enforcement on the water more of the authority already permitted when investigating DUI cases on land. The laws are also clearly anticipating the potential rise in BUI incidences due to the legalization of marijuana in Washington State.
Injuries caused by collisions on the water present special challenges for the injured parties, law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel. An injured person may have to wait much longer to be evaluated at the scene for injuries due to the distances involved and the generally slower nature of boat travel. Often times, there are few independent witnesses to what actually happened to cause the collision, making it difficult for law enforcement to perform a complete investigation. In addition, there is the ever-present danger that an injured party may fall overboard and injure themselves more severely.
The attorneys at the law firm of Adler Giersch PS are experienced in cases of injuries from vessel collisions, and are available for a free consultation.