On June 18, 2012, 9-year-old Jake Prince and his 13-year-old brother Griffin were killed on Lake Lanier in north Georgia when a drunken boater collided with their family’s pontoon boat. Five others were injured in the accident.
On July 8, 2012, 11-year-old Kyle Glover, stepson of seven-time Grammy winner Usher, was left brain dead after a Jet Ski accident on Lake Lanier. Kyle died two weeks later after he was taken off of life support.
These two tragedies were the stimulus for legislation passed this past session strengthening the boating laws in Georgia.
SB 136, also known as the “Jake and Griffin Prince BUI Law,” reduces the state’s legal blood alcohol limit from 0.10 to 0.08 for boating while under the influence. The bill was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal on April 23 in a signing ceremony at a marina on Lake Lanier.
This brings the legal intoxication limit for Georgia boaters in line with the limit for operating motor vehicles on the state’s roadways. Georgia was one of only eight states that allowed a higher blood-alcohol limit for boating than for driving before this new law.
The new law also prohibits operation while under the influence of any glue, aerosol or other toxic vapor as well as increasing the penalties for those who are charged with boating while intoxicated.
A misdemeanor will now be issued for a first or second conviction, a high and aggravated misdemeanor will be issued for a third conviction and a felony will be issued for a fourth or subsequent conviction. Convictions will include a civil fine, imprisonment, community service, clinical evaluation, possible completion of a DUI program, and a period of probation.
Also, a person’s privileges to operate a vessel will be suspended for three years and will remain in effect until the person can prove they have completed a boating education course and paid a $200 fine or, for repeat offenders, a $500 fine.
Another portion of SB 136 is the “Kyle Glover Boat Education Law,” which honors the memory of the 11-year-old by increasing the age requirement for a child to wear a personal flotation device (life jacket) while on a moving vessel from 10 to 13 years of age.
Also, effective July 1, 2014, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, and those turning 16 years old thereafter, must complete a boating education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources prior to operating a motorized vessel on the waters of the state of Georgia. This includes vessels that are owned, rented or leased.
Exemptions to this portion of the law include: those persons licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel, operating the vessel on a private lake or pond, or a nonresident who has proof that they have completed a National Association of State Boat Licensed Administrators approved boater education course or the equivalent from another state.
This portion of the law also states that anyone 12 to 15 years old may operate a Class A vessel only if the person is accompanied by an adult 18 years of age or older who has completed a boater education course. Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 vessels are not to be operated by anyone younger than 16 years old.
SB 136 also deals with hunters in our state by strengthening the law prohibiting a person from hunting by lowering the person’s alcohol concentration from 0.10 to 0.08 at any time within three hours after hunting. Penalties for a person convicted of this offense include suspension of the person’s hunting privileges for one year. This remains in effect until the person submits proof of completion of a DUI alcohol or drug use reduction program and pays a $200 restoration fee or, for repeat offenders, a $500 fee.
Our hearts go out to the families of Jake and Griffin Prince and of Kyle Glover. While these new laws will not bring them back, they will always be remembered as having made the waters of our state safer.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.