NY Assemblyman Wants Stronger Boating while Intoxicated Laws

DWI is in the news constantly. Reports surface on a regular basis of crashes, driving while intoxicated with children in the car, injuries, fatalities, and more. One group or another calls for lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol levels, stiffer sentences, ignition interlock devices, jail for first offenders, and the list goes on.

We hear much less about boating while intoxicated, and when we do read an article or see a newscast on the subject, it’s almost always during the summer boating months. Another trigger for the topic, not surprisingly, is an incident in which drinking or drugging is suspected in a serious injury or death on the water.

The incident in this case was the death in 2006 of a woman, Tiffany Heitkamp, who was killed by a drunk boater who had a history of driving cars while drunk. And late last month another young girl, just eight years old, was killed while on her family’s boat on Lake George. Their boat was struck by another boater, who was arrested within minutes after the crash. The man arrested is suspected of being drunk.

The latest effort to strengthen the BWI penalties would not increase fines or jail time for drunk or drugged boating. It doesn’t lower the legal limit for BAC. Nor does it change the nature of the offense in any way. What it does is to link DWI and BWI in a particular way.

Currently, the two are unrelated. What this means is that a boating while intoxicated conviction is treated as a first offense if there were no prior BWI convictions. The way the new bill reads, a conviction under section 1192 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law – drunk driving or drugged driving – will be a “prior” in determining the sentence of a person convicted of violating section 49-a of the New York Navigation Law – drunk or drugged boating. It’s a complicated way of saying that you’ll be considered a repeat offender under the BWI law even if you’re only prior conviction was for driving while intoxicated. The bill is now pending in the New York legislature, and is being pushed by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (D – Dist. 111 – Schenectady). It has been nicknamed “Tiffany’s Law.”

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