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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Nickl: Utah needs better enforcement on drinking, boating laws

By Gina Lea Nickl

Utah is known for having great ski slopes. The skiers and boarders who live on Utah’s slopes in the winter also hit its great lakes in the summer. Utah has some of the greatest waters in America. We also have one of the highest rates for boating accidents in America.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Lake Powell, Utah’s most frequented lake, had the sixth-highest accident rate in the country in 2005, the last year that accident numbers are available. Our other lakes didn’t rank well, either. Bear Lake, Willard Bay, Utah Lake and Pineview Reservoir all have high accident rates compared to other lakes around the country. The Coast Guard’s report shows Utah has the fourth-highest rate of boating accidents in the nation.

The majority of accidents in Utah happen under good weather conditions. The 2007 Coast Guard’s Executive Summary attributes “alcohol use, careless/reckless operation, passenger/skier behavior, excessive speed and operator inattention” as the top five contributing factors of accidents in 2007. Weather and equipment failure are low on the list.

Anyone who participates in dangerous sports knows there are inherent risks that come with it. The same is true for boating. Experienced boaters know how to play it safe while having fun in the sun. However, the accidents that are happening aren’t because of the inherent risks of the sport. They are because of the recklessness of the participants who choose to intoxicate themselves.

Sadly, many boaters are college students who get access to their parents’ boat for the weekend, load it with friends and alcohol but don’t leave room for life jackets and common sense. The age group with the highest fatality rate is 20 to 29 years old. The age group of boat drivers causing most of the accidents is 19 to 35.

Many aren’t experienced, and when you add alcohol to the picture, it only gets worse. According to the Coast Guard, alcohol use is the No. 1 factor in fatal boating accidents, and 21 percent of the deaths last year were caused by alcohol use.

We have laws against driving and boating under the influence. Utah laws prohibit a person from driving a boat with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood. If convicted, it is treated much like a DUI-driver license revoked, fine, jail time, community service and possible rehabilitation.

These laws seemed to be ignored on the water. Although Utah’s alcohol-related accident rate is lower than other states, our accidents in total put our lakes as the fourth most dangerous of any state.

While the fatality rate in boating accidents has continued to decrease, the injury rate is on a steady rise.

“The thing that seems to work the most is people educating themselves,” said Jim Carlin, president and founder of Boaters Against Drunk Driving. “Media attention helps. In the ’70s, it was socially acceptable to drink and drive. We are working now to make it socially unacceptable to drink and boat.”

With the top reason for boating fatalities being alcohol use, there is no reason for so many accidents on our waters. This is just senseless behavior. The No. 1 accident type is “collision with another vessel.” A lake isn’t like a road where vehicles are right next to each other. It is widespread. You can see for miles. It seems impossible to not see another boat coming in your path.

Boaters need to obey the laws, and the Coast Guard needs to have more officers on the lakes, or at least more determination to enforce drinking laws.

Besides tending to the alcohol problem, Utah should require more education before someone is allowed to operate a boat. If more education were required, the operators would take boating more seriously. The accidents on our waters are preventable.

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