The Iowa Senate has voted to establish the same standard to judge drunken boaters as the one used to judge who is guilty of drunken driving.
Under current law, the blood alcohol level for drunk driving is .08, but for boaters, it’s slightly more lenient, a .10 blood alcohol level. Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, represents the Iowa Great Lakes region.
“The issue is boater safety, especially on West Lake Okoboji. It has become a very, very popular place for boatters from across teh Midwest, not just the state of Iowa, and you can go up there on a summer weekend and it is just filled with boats of all kinds,” Johnson says, “some very fast boats and some boats that have a tendency to be operated by young people who have been drinking.”
If the bill becomes law, someone caught piloting a motorboat or a sailboat with a blood alcohol level of .08 would be tossed in jail for 48 hours on a first offense and fined up to $1000.
“Now this does not say that you can’t drink in a boat,” Johnson says. “You can have an open container, but if you’re operating that boat, you can’t be over the legal limit.”
The Iowa Senate has overwhelmingly approved the tougher standard for drunken boating in each of the past three years, but the bill has stalled in the House each time. Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, says it’s an important bill that needs to become law.
“You have to understand, boats can go 50, 60 miles an hour and they have no brakes,” Dearden said during this afternoon’s debate.
The bill passed on a 40-to-9 vote. Senator Merlin Bartz, a Republican from Grafton, was the only senator to vote against the bill in the past and he voted “no” again this afternoon. “And I frankly was surprised that there were more people that joined me this time,” Bartz told reporters after the vote. “…I was in the ‘vote alone’ club last year.”
Senator Steve Kettering, a Republican from Lake View, voted for the bill in the past, but voted against it this year.
“There’s no data that supports lowering from .10 to .08 will save any lives whatsoever,” Kettering said.
Kettering told reporters he didn’t realize when he voted for the bill in the past that it applied to operating a boat on a farm pond either. However, the current state law which judges drunken boating at the .10 alcohol level currently applies to all waters of the state, including private lakes and ponds, so the bill isn’t expanding the state’s reach to those private lakes.