Oklahoma lawmakers found a way a few years ago to hold youngsters accountable on state lakes and rivers. Will they ever do the same with adults?
The highway patrol's marine enforcement division hopes so. Members of that unit told a House committee last week that they'd like to see stronger laws regarding operating under the influence. Presently, boaters 21 and older can drink while operating watercraft, so long as their blood alcohol level doesn't exceed the legal limit.
We understand that people go to the lake to escape the daily grind. But if it's an arrestable offense to drive an automobile with an open container of beer on hand, why is it acceptable for someone operating a boat to do the same?
It's the culture — laws on the lakes have always been different from those for the roads. But boats and personal watercraft travel at tremendous speeds. In addition, boaters 17 and older don't have to pass any sort of competency test. They can simply get out on the water and go.
Those in the 12-to-16 age group must take a boater education course, under legislation passed in 2006. There have been no fatalities in that age group since the law went into effect, according to the lake patrol. Instead, the most problematic demographic is 25- to 40-year-olds. Drownings of adults involve alcohol a majority of the time.
State Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, said he will consider drafting legislation next year requiring boating education classes for adults born after a certain date. Those who testified before the House committee said they'd welcome further education requirements.
But stiffer laws regarding alcohol consumption would be the bigger help. If lawmakers want to make our lakes and rivers safer for everyone, they'll listen to the experts and stiffen the penalties for operating a boat while under the influence. That might anger some constituents, but it also could save lives.