For some, Independence Day activities will include alcohol, but the holiday festivities can quickly go from fun to fatal if you choose to drive or boat this holiday weekend while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported during the July 4 period in 2012 (6 p.m. July 3 to 5:59 a.m. July 5), 179 people were killed in crashes across the nation, and 44 percent of those deadly crashes involved alcohol. In addition, thousands of injuries can be attributed to the use of fireworks.
A 2013 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study reveals eight deaths and an estimated 11,400 consumers sustained injuries related to fireworks across the United States. This was an increase from 8,700 injuries in 2012, and 65 percent (7,400) of the 2013 injuries occurred within 30 days of July 4.
“State law enforcement agencies are working together with county and municipal agencies to reduce injuries and deaths during this holiday period by enforcing traffic, boating, alcoholic beverage and fireworks laws,” said Spencer Collier, the Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement.
Alabama Marine Police will also be patrolling Lewis Smith Lake this weekend and want to remind boaters of another important rule they should remember while boating this Fourth of July holiday.
“Just like on the highway — drinking and operating a boat is against the law,” said Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams, who patrols all 500-plus miles of the shoreline on Smith Lake. “Smith Lake is surrounded by three counties — Walker, Winston and Cullman counties — all of which are dry, and folks need to be aware of that. But I think the most important thing to remember is that drinking and operating a boat is a lot more dangerous than drinking and driving a car.”
And, according to Williams, here’s why: boaters tend to get a condition known as boater’s fatigue, especially toward the end of the day and when you add alcohol to that mix you have a very deadly combination.
“Boater’s fatigue is caused by the glare of the sun, the action of the waves, the wind and general tiredness and when boaters add alcohol to that, they become fatigued a lot faster,” Williams said, “especially if they’re not drinking plenty of water. So you need to stay well hydrated and, as you know, alcohol only dehydrates you.”
Williams said multiple agencies will be working with on Smith Lake this weekend to help keep a look out for impaired drivers and passengers, both on the water and on the road.
“We’ll also be working the fireworks show as well. I know this will probably upset a lot of people, but we’re just doing our job,” Williams said. “We don’t make the laws, we just enforce them. We’re having a good summer so far on Smith Lake, and we’re hoping it stays that way.”
According to Alabama law, it is illegal to be in physical control of any boating vessel, including personal watercraft or similar devices, if you have a concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream of 0.08 percent or more or you are under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, or the combination of alcohol and a controlled substance, which impairs your mental or physical faculties.
“If you are suspected of operating a vessel on Lewis Smith Lake under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance, you must submit to a field breath test or other approved testing device for blood alcohol concentration,” Williams said. “And refusal to submit to a field breath test, or other approved testing device, will result in the same punishment as provided in Alabama’s law for operators of motor vehicles on state highways.”
The penalties for those arrested and convicted of boating under the influence are as follows:
•First offense - fine of $600 up to $2,100 and/or sentence of one year in jail and suspension of the operator’s certification/license for 90 days.
•Second offense - fine of $1,100 up to $5,100 and/or sentence of up to one year in jail with a mandatory sentence of no less than five days or community service for no less than 30 days, and suspension of his or her operator’s certification for one year
•Third offense - fine of $2,100 up to $10,100 and/or sentence of up to one year in jail with a mandatory sentence of no less than 60 days, and suspension of his or her operator’s certification for three years.
Anyone over the age of 21 who is convicted of a BUI and has a child under the age of 14 present on the vessel at the time of the offense will be sentenced to double the minimum punishment they would have received if, the child had not been present on the vessel.
For more information on public safety while traveling on Alabama roadways and waterways, call the Alabama Department of Public Safety at (334) 242-4445 or the Alabama Marine Police at (334) 242-3678.