The preventable human harm detailed in the Aug. 24 Metro story “Md. lawmaker says he was drinking before boat crash” underscores the fact that drunk driving’s scourge continues by land or by sea.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, half of all boating deaths are alcohol-related. The Coast Guard warns that the effects of alcohol are actually worse on water than land, citing how the marine environment of “motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray” exacerbates drinkers’ impairment. Such was borne out in 2010, when Maryland Natural Resources Police cited alcohol and or substance abuse in 8 percent of the state’s boating crashes that year.
With Maryland home to a large share of the Chesapeake Bay, among many other bodies of water, state lawmakers recognized the need for safety and, in 2010, passed legislation establishing new procedures for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing for persons suspected of boating under the influence, including prohibiting boat operators convicted with a .08 or higher BAC or who refused a BAC test from further operating watercraft in Maryland for up to a year.
This legislation also mandates BAC testing for persons involved in boating incidents where a fatality or life-threatening injury occurred.
Before passing the House, the bill cleared the Judiciary Committee 16-2. One of the nay votes was cast by the delegate who says he was under the influence of alcohol when the boat he was piloting Wednesday struck a vessel full of children, injuring four.
Tragedy trumps irony and in the avoidable events of last week, sadly, everyone lost.
Kurt Gregory Erickson, McLean
The writer is president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.