"Welcome to Michigan: You'll Probably Get Probation" - New Law Seeks to Lower DUI Boating Limits from .10 to .08

Michigan DUI Boating Patrols

Channel 7, WXYZ, posted an article on June 3, 2013, regarding a new bill that seeks to lower the legal boating limit from .10 to .08.  In seventeen years of practice, I have had ONE case where the boater was .08.  There was no accident.  It was simply an overly aggressive deputy with nothing better to do at the time.  The Ottawa County prosecutor dismissed the case after he learned that the young sheriff's deputy crashed the boat three times into the dock before turning control over to the supposedly "drunk" operator who properly docked the vessel without further damage.  In any event, here is the reply I posted:


I have repeatedly asked lawmakers who propose to reduce alcohol limits for boating to produce evidence that it will make Michigan waterways safer.  Senator Rick Jones, while serving as a house representative, admitted that there was no statistical data available to support prior versions of his bill that would have reduced the legal limit from .10 down to .08 for boaters.  At that time, Jones told me that it was my responsibility as a private citizen to present him with evidence that his proposed law would not benefit the state by lowering the bodily alcohol content (BAC) of boaters.  As a drunk driving defense lawyer who stands to benefit from a law that nets my firm more business, I do not support this bill. 

We reduced the legal limit on roadways to .08 when the federal government threatened to cut federal highway funds, despite overwhelming evidence that most people are not intoxicated at that lower level.  The .08 debate was tenuous at best, relying upon accident statistics that did not unequivocally support lowering the legal limit for motor vehicles but promised to “save lives.”  Most automobile accidents occur at high BAC levels, and that remains true today even after the .08 standard was adopted.  Nonetheless, the debate ended with a lower alcohol level for drivers imposed by federal compulsion across the fifty states.  Recently, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recommended reducing the legal driving limit even further to .05 because European countries have lower limits, a move that has met widespread criticism even from organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  

No one is forcing us to reduce the bodily alcohol content for boating, but Michigan lawmakers keep pushing this issue every term.  Why?  Most boating fatalities occur from falls overboard, not collisions as occur in motor vehicles, and fatalities correlate with high BAC levels.  Highly intoxicated passengers drown as quickly, and in equal numbers, as boat operators.  Statistical data has not sprung into existence to support lowering the legal boating limit, and there has been no rash of recent low BAC accidents involving boats.  Operating a watercraft at low BACs, which incidentally includes non-motorized canoes and inflatable tubes, is not a problem, and we do not need – or want – to criminalize otherwise legal behavior.  

Michigan outdoor activities are not enhanced or made any safer through anti-alcohol bills being pushed by big government lawmakers who want to give police more expansive arrest powers.  These lawmakers also intend to include snowmobilers and off-road ORVs without any smoldering issue that needs to be corrected. The new law is intended to be a revenue-generating device, with thousands of dollars in fines and costs being raised through the courts for each arrest.  Keep in mind that these are sober people who enjoy mixing alcohol with outdoor activities, and lawmakers intend to reclassify these folks as drunk criminals.  

The House Fiscal Agency Analysis reveals that the new law will actually impose increased costs on taxpayers as opposed to raising revenue. Although courts may impose stiff fines on impaired outdoor fun-seekers, there will be an increased strain on probation departments.  Inevitably, a few of these cases will net someone with a prior record who will see jail time or prison, and taxpayers will foot the bill.  The House Fiscal Agency Analysis admits that it does not know how much this might cost taxpayers. While the waterways and off-road trails will not be any safer, a few state lawmakers can proudly boast of their “tough” record against drinking and driving, evidenced by their pointless victory lowering the legal BAC for boats, snowmobiles, and ORVs. 

Demand evidence from your state representatives that this measure is needed and desired before they consider it.  I submit that the current system is working fine, with enough flexibility and no crisis that needs to be addressed.  There is no need to reduce the BAC to .08 for boats, snowmobiles, and ORVs in Michigan.  Contact the supporters of this bill to voice your concern:  Rep. Matt Lori (R-Constantine) - MattLori@house.mi.gov ; Rep. Dave Pagel (R-Berrien Springs) - DavePagel@house.mi.gov ; and Rep. Andrew Kandrevas (D-Southgate) - AndrewKandrevas@house.mi.gov