New law could spell DUI for impaired boaters

PASCO, Wash. -- A new law set to pass will be taking DUI enforcement from the highways to the waterways. It's a move parents and cops say is long overdue.

"There are certain places you have your boxing gloves on and other places you let your guard down on," explained Janice Heitschmidt, "it's easy to do." If you asked Heitschmidt before she was a mom, an afternoon on the river seems like a place to relax, but now with two little ones, she's on alert.

"It's shocking when you think your child's life is in the hands of another. It's very unsettling to think a fun afternoon could turn into tragedy," she said. Unfortunately it happens all too easily, said lieutenant Chuck Jones, three drinks or two hits could spell disaster.

"A person that is a .08 driving versus a person with a .08 blood alcohol level in a boat is actually a lot worse, because their body is more worn down from the sun and movement of the boat," said Jones. It might sound strange, but for families like the Heitschmidt's, a roadway with an impaired driver is safer.

"There are no lines, lanes, stop signs, you've got people intersecting from all different angles and you've got tubes, swimmers and kayaks," Jones. Inner-tubes that could contain Jude, "it's scary," said Heitschmidt.

But a new law, which could be soon on the books in Washington, will make it easier to stop that potential drunk boater and get them off the water. "It's long overdue," said Jones. "Driving while intoxicated the state takes it very seriously and they have appropriate laws; it's a gross misdemeanor to drive under the influence."

Boating under the influence, however, is currently a misdemeanor. This law would change that to match a DUI, but more importantly change implied consent. Boat drivers would no longer be able to refuse a breath test without consequence, just as if they were on driving a car.

"It's an automatic $1,000 ticket, and gross misdemeanor," said Jones.

Blood draws for pot are also part of the deal, and if the driver tests above a 5.0 it will have the same result. "If someone is out there driving or boating and we can see or smell them, we're going to pursue it aggressively. They're going to go to jail," said Jones.

Incentive to put down the drink, before putting the boat in the waters, said Heitschmidt, to protecting her most prized possessions.

"From day one, that is our whole goal, to protect those kids."

For a look at the bill, click here: