Federal and state transportation officials on Wednesday urged lawmakers to add safety rules for boaters in Iowa. Bill Gossard with the National Transportation Safety Board says Iowa’s one of only five states that don’t have a life-jacket law for kids. He says Iowa shouldn’t risk a tragedy like one that happened in Arkansas. Gossard says a family of 9 went out on a recreational boat and 7 didn’t return. “Calm day, small river, warm weather, clear — five children died. They didn’t have a life-jacket law.” He says that state’s legislature met the next week and passed a law.
Gossard says the safety board’s focused on life-jacket wearing for children because they think it’s an area where they can make significant cuts in the fatality rate nationally. He says they’ve found that when kids have to wear life jackets, then the adults do, too. Representatives from the Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council told lawmakers they’d like to see tougher laws on how fast boats can go when they’re within 300 feet of shore, and a rule that they keep 100 feet apart from other boats unless they’re going less than five miles an hour.
Safety Council Vice President Bill Maas says current rules are confusing. Maas says since the laws were written, boats have gotten faster on the average. He says there’s one boat up on the Iowa Great Lakes right now has been clocked on radar going 108 miles an hour, takes 2 seconds to travel the length of a football. He says they hope to protect people by making laws more simple. The delegation from the Okoboji area also said they’d like to see a lower blood-alcohol standard for drunk-boating rules, and tougher penalties for leaving the scene of an accident on the water. They’re also recommending a law creating a new crime — eluding a Lake Patrol officer.
But Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines, was skeptical. Olson says “I don’t know if government should always take the position that they know more than the parent, whose child is on the boat with them, under any given situation boating. And those types of kids, in my estimation, often can swim a lot better than adults that may be in the boat that could be my age or older.” Olson says it should be up to parents to decide if their 11- or 12-year-old must wear a life jacket…but says he may be willing to consider a law that requires life vests for children under the age of six.
Olson says fishing boats don’t have a speedometer…but boaters know when to slow down. Olson says we have two-lane highways where vehicles are traveling toward each other at 55 miles and hour and there may only be a few feet separating them. “So I don’t see the issue on a boat that’s going to be any more of a safety issue than we already have on our two-lane highways.” If the legislation passes it would apply to both state and federally-controlled lakes, including big reservoirs at Rathbun and Saylorville — but would not govern boating on the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers.