BWIs, big wakes targeted for legislation

Two legislative initiatives the Missouri Water Patrol will pursue in the upcoming session could lower the number of drunken drivers on the lake and put a dent in the damage created by big boats and big wakes.   Lowering the BAC on water would make it identical to the rules that apply to operating a motor vehicle. The disparity between the legal limit creates a public safety issue, according to Water Patrol officials.   The legal limit on waterways is .10 BAC compared to .08 BAC on the highway.   Major Joe Hughes said the Water Patrol has been looking at lowering the BAC for several years.   Last year a move to gain approval of a bill to lower the legal limit on the water failed to make it through the Missouri House and Senate. If all goes as planned, Hughes said, the Water Patrol is hoping to get the bill passed this year and into the law books.   Although the Lake of the Ozarks leads the state in BWI arrests, it’s a statewide problem that needs to be addressed, he said.   The Water Patrol estimates that the average blood alcohol level among those arrested on Lake of the Ozarks runs more than .14, four-tenths of a percent higher than the legal limit on water.   With the difference between the legal limits, the average drunken boater could come off the water, get behind the wheel of a car and be nearly double the legal limit.   Statistically, alcohol plays a prominent role in water-related accidents and fatalities. The Water Patrol estimates more than 50 percent of fatalities and 30 percent of injuries related to boating activities are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol.   The legal limit debate started in 2001 when the state legislature passed a bill lowering the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle from .10 to .08 percent. At the time, legislators did not include language to address the legal limit on the water.   The Water Patrol will also push for a change in the existing law that will force operators of boats 30 feet or longer to slow down to idle speed within 300 feet of a dock, anchored vessel or pier.   The 100-foot rule will be left in place and will apply to boats shorter than 30 feet.   For example, Hughes said a boater heading into a cove 600 feet or less from dock to dock would be required to run at idle speed. If the cove is 700 feet wide from dock to dock, there would be a 100-foot corridor down the middle to run at full throttle.   The proposed 300-foot rule would allow the energy of the wake to dissipate before it hits the dock. It would apply in coves and on the main channel. The proposed 300-foot rule would help ease the amount of property damage that occurs when the huge wakes hit docks, moored vessels or piers, Hughes said.    Large wakes created by big boats is blamed for causing tens of thousands of dollars of property damage annually.   Contact this reporter at