New law toughens rules for boating while intoxicated

Thursday, July 3, 2008 | 10:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:48 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt has approved tougher rules for boating while intoxicated, making the threshold for drunken boating on lakes and major rivers the same as for motorists.

The governor signed legislation that lowers the legal blood-alcohol limit to 0.08 percent, which has been the limit for roadways since 2001. Blunt signed the bill at the Lake of the Ozarks — a popular vacation destination that's become known for large boats and a raunchy "Party Cove."

But Independence Day revealers from across the Midwest who flock to the lake won't have to worry about drinking less until next year. That's because the lower legal blood-alcohol limit won't take effect until Aug. 28 when the summer boating season is almost over.

In a written statement, Blunt said the same standard should apply for motorists and boaters.

Water Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jerry Callahan said that, except for coordinated drunken boating checkpoints, police generally identify drunken boaters after stopping them for another violation.

Callahan said the lower blood-alcohol threshold would give officers more time after identifying a drunken boater — which is important in those types of cases.

"One of the difficulties Water Patrol officers face is that many times we're in a more isolated environment, and so it takes quite a while to get someone off the water to do the processing and do the testing," he said.

In 2006, the Lake of the Ozarks accounted for nearly three-quarters of drunken boating arrests by the Missouri State Water Patrol, and more than half of all boating accidents statewide.

That year there were 50 alcohol-related accidents, the most in nearly a decade. Ten people died.

Besides drunken boating, the legislation also requires boats to travel at no-wake speeds within 100 feet of the Water Patrol and other emergency vessels with red or blue lights.

Blunt on Thursday also signed legislation adding new requirements on those with multiple drunken driving convictions. The governor traveled throughout the state, publicizing the bill in Springfield, Columbia and St. Louis.

That legislation lets previous convictions in municipal court count in determining whether someone is a repeat drunken driver or boater. The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that they could not be considered under current law.

The bill also requires repeat offenders to prove to the Department of Revenue that an ignition interlock device has been installed on their vehicles before their driver's licenses can be reinstated. The interlock devices prevent a vehicle from starting unless the driver blows into a special gauge without registering alcohol.

A 2001 law already requires the courts to order the devices for people convicted of two or more drunken driving offenses. But Blunt contends judges have not been sufficiently aggressive at enforcing the requirement.

The drunken driving bill also includes a variety of other transportation provisions. One encourages tractor-trailers to be equipped with special generators that drivers can engage when they stop for the night, by not counting the generator against the truck's weight limit. The generator allows drivers to conserve fuel by turning off the main engine while still having electricity and climate control in the cabin.

The legislation signed by Blunt also allows for heavier trucks hauling livestock along U.S. 36 and U.S. 65 to a St. Joseph plant. But that bill bars heavy tractor-trailers, in most cases, from the farthest left lane of three-lane highways in urban areas.

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