Increased public awareness has led to strict laws and penalties for drunk drivers, but most laws apply to traffic safety on roads. Compared to rules for driving on highways, few state laws - at least, at present - concern negligence while operating watercraft. A recreational setting, like a day on an Illinois lake, is the last place families expect to become victims of drunk driving accidents.
A driver who diligently obeys traffic laws behind the wheel of a car may adopt a different mindset while operating watercraft. Alcohol use and impairment often accompany the relaxed attitude people take with them on boating excursions.
A speedboat accident on Petite Lake last summer killed a 10-year-old boy. The boat operator, impaired by alcohol and cocaine, was imprisoned for 10 years after a conviction for aggravated DUI. The boy's family initiated a liability lawsuit naming the man, a marina operator and a state agency responsible for managing the Chain O'Lakes waterways.
Negligence often goes beyond a person directly responsible for an accident. The prevention of safe boating accidents rests with individual boaters and people or entities charged with enforcing the rules. The lawsuit claimed the marina operator and the state agency neglected to address the prevalence of drunk boaters.
The complaint stated about 1 in 5 boating accidents on Chain O' Lakes since 2009 happened on Petite Lake. Nine injuries were recorded in 11 accidents. Petite Lake apparently has a local, but not widely-known, reputation of being a place "where people congregate and drink." The legal action claims the lake is advertised as family-friendly.
State lawmakers are attempting to curb future waterway accidents. Three Senate proposals are under consideration that would tighten boating restrictions. Legislation on the table would suspend a DUI boater's license for three months, increase the age of people eligible to operate a boat and force boats towing individuals to display brightly-colored flags.
chicagotribune.com, "Lawsuit filed over death of boy, 10, hit by speedboat" Lisa Black, Aug. 21, 2013