Boating Boozers Beware

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- A Riverside County lawmaker introduced legislation Thursday that would give the Department of Motor Vehicles authority to suspend a motorist's license if that person is convicted of operating a boat while intoxicated.

Sen. John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, said SB 154 would reinstate the DMV's ability to automatically revoke a motorist's driving privileges for a boating-under-the-influence conviction.

"The same reckless mindset is at work when intoxicated individuals take either the wheel of the car or control of a watercraft," Benoit said.

"Having spent eight years in DUI enforcement, making over 1,000 arrests, I have witnessed how the bad choices made under the influence of alcohol have created countless tragedies," he said. "My legislation reflects the seriousness of BUI offenses, protecting the safety of travelers on California's streets, highways and waterways."

According to Benoit's office, roughly half of the 55 people who died on California waterways in 2007 were killed in alcohol-related accidents.

From the mid-1990s to mid-2008, the DMV used a vehicle code provision to suspend or revoke a motorist's license when he or she was convicted of boating under the influence, according to Benoit's office.

Last June, the state's Second District Court of Appeal ruled the DMV was exceeding its authority, based on findings in a lawsuit brought by California residents Ronnie Cinquegrani and Bryan Royea, whose driving privileges were suspended by the DMV after they were convicted of BUI.

Although the men had prior driving-under-the-influence convictions, the court ruled their BUIs could not be used to justify suspending their motor vehicle licenses because boating violations fall under the California Harbors and Navigation Code -- not the California Vehicle Code.

Under the Harbors and Navigation Code, penalties for boating under the influence do not include revocation of a person's license, the court found.
 
Benoit said SB 154 would amend state law to give the DMV explicit statutory authority to suspend driver's licenses for BUI convictions.

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