Bill targets drunken boaters

Motorboat operators who exceed blood-alcohol limits could face the suspension of their driver’s licenses by the Illinois secretary of state, if a bill approved by the Senate becomes law. Tougher measures are indeed needed to curb tipsy boating.

Should drunken motorboat operators continue to get away with a slap on the wrist if they get caught?

Or, should sharper teeth be added to the law to curb their enthusiasm for tipsy boating?

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, favors the latter approach.

A bill sponsored by Morrison, which passed the Illinois Senate Thursday, 54-0, certainly would give pause to motorboat operators statewide, if it becomes law.

Morrison’s Boating Under the Influence bill would authorize the Secretary of State’s Office to suspend a person’s driver’s license if that individual is found to be operating a motorboat while intoxicated.

A blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher would indicate intoxication, the same level as is applied to vehicular drivers.

Piloting a boat while under the influence of drugs or other intoxicating compounds would also put operators in jeopardy of having their motor vehicle driver’s licenses suspended.

The bill received “yes” votes from three area state senators: Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, and Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap.

We have expressed our concern about drunken boating in the past. With the Rock River running through our region, boating safety is a constant concern, particularly now as warmer weather approaches.

Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported a rising trend of fatalities on Illinois waterways where boating and alcohol were involved. In 2011, nine people were killed in alcohol-related boating accidents.

The trend was partly blamed on reduced enforcement because the state’s budget crunch means fewer conservation police officers are on the job.

Some people may believe Morrison’s bill to toughen penalties for drunken motorboat piloting is a stretch. After all, the offense takes place on the water, not on roadways. Why suspend driving privileges on land for something that didn’t happen there?

We don’t buy that argument.

Boats are required to be licensed by the state. Drunken motorboat operation occurs on state-owned waterways. Extending the punishment for a moving violation on water to the operation of motor vehicles on land provides a sensible incentive for boat operators to stay sober.

We note that operators of boats with no motors would not be subject to the harsher penalties. Neither would passengers on recreational boats, however the boats are powered.

Morrison’s bill will now be considered by the Illinois House. We hope its members show the same wisdom as their Senate colleagues.