Rep. Ginny Shaver said she knew news of the first boat fatality after the failure of the boating safety bill she sponsored in the state legislature would hurt – but it would hurt more that this happened in his hometown.
A 35-year-old Jefferson County man died of injuries and an 11-year-old was taken to children’s hospital on May 22 after the tube they were pulled on struck a concrete support under the Interstate 759 bridge in Gadsden.
The fatal accident occurred on the first day of what Governor Kay Ivey proclaimed “Safe Boating Week.”
Shaver, R-Leesburg, said that in 2019, Alabama had the fourth highest number of water-related deaths in the country.
She said she worked with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol Division – supporters of strengthening boating safety laws – on a bill that would have, among other things, dealt with boating under influence such as driving under the influence.
With the bill, a BUI conviction would impact not only the offender’s boat license, but also his driver’s license – just as it does when a motorcyclist is arrested for driving under the influence.
As it is, Shaver said, a boater can get a BUI and “they can still drive to work on Monday.”
Another key part of the bill was a proximity speed restriction, saying that on a waterway 300 feet or more in width, it would be illegal to operate ships and personal watercraft faster than idle below 100. feet of another ship, quay, quay, bridge. , person in water, a public park or beach, marina, restaurant, or other public use area.
If the waterway is less than 300, the distance would be 50 feet.
The bill also called for stop switches on ships.
Shaver has said for her that water safety concerns stem from living on Weiss Lake and being scared for boaters because of what she sees on the water. Recently it was a group of young people on jet skis. Three fell into the water and the others were circling close, spraying them with water.
This is something that the bill she proposed would prohibit. “We just need people to be smarter and safer,” she said. “I hate that we have to have laws.”
At the moment, Alabama does not have this law. The measure failed by a few votes, Shaver said, after a few lawmakers who had indicated they were going to support her turned around, and a few others she expected to vote for were not there to vote.
Shaver said most of the bill’s opponents came from the Smith Lake and Gulf Coast region – areas where the largest number of fatal boat / water deaths have occurred, she said.
She said she was surprised to see fellow lawmakers say boating under the influence was not as dangerous as drunk driving.
“There is a false perception that this will change the purpose of the lake,” she said.
A lawmaker told him that the bill would take away the fun of spending time on the water.
“People want to drink, fish and get on their boats,” Shaver said. “We want people to come here and have a good time. We just want them to be safe.”
Shaver also loves water and she wants everyone to be able to do the same – without the kind of tragedy that has happened in Gadsden and has happened so many other times on Alabama’s waterways.
She plans to consult ALEA again, and perhaps fine-tune the bill before the next session.
Shaver said she intends to bring boating safety back to the House level again because the safety of those on lakes and rivers matters to her.
Contact Gadsden Times reporter Donna Thornton at 256-393-3284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.