Tougher laws have led to a decline in boating accidents and incident-related fatalities for a second straight year, but not all the numbers are promising.
Boating under the influence citations are up, and there’s been a significant uptick in drownings — 33 so far in 2014, up from 22 the year before. There was nearly another drowning Monday on Chattahoochee River where, according to Channel 2 Action News, a unidentified female kayaker tipped over and was hospitalized in critical condition.
Still, the overall trend lines are moving in the right direction. There have been only six boating incident-related fatalities in 2014, one-third the annual average of 18 since 1985. While the drownings have risen since 2013, the totals are still well below the average of 52 each of the past 15 years, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The uptick in BUI’s reflect new laws that lowered the blood-alcohol content threshold from .10 to .08, state law enforcement officials say, but the 158 citations issued is still a far cry from the annual average of 274 over the last two decades. Legislators strengthened boating laws following two well-publicized incidents on Lake Lanier in 2012 that killed three children, including two brothers.
Taking note of the stricter standards, Vince Smith apparently drew the short stick as he celebrated the holiday with 23 friends on a rented houseboat.
“I’m the designated driver,” said Smith, 24, as his friends sipped cocktails with music booming from the radio, “so I’m not too worried.”
Also this year, the state began mandating safety courses for boaters born after July 1, 1998. Also, renters of boats with a 10-horsepower engine or larger are now required to take safety classes.
“The Labor Day weekend is not usually as busy as Memorial Day or the July 4th weekends,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant director of DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. The volume appeared manageable Monday on Lanier — which draws 7.5 million visitors annually — even in Sunset Cove, a popular destination for revelers.
“We were planning on going to a quieter cove by now but it really hasn’t been that crowded here,” said Ashley Elliott, 39, of Cumming.
Elliott said she’s noticed an increase in law enforcement on the lake, a development she said she welcomes, “to a point.”
“Sometimes they go a little overboard,” she said.
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