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Wisconsin boaters warned about drunk driving dangers

Most Wisconsin drivers understand the hazards in play when drinking and driving, and make responsible choices when it comes to getting from one place to another after having a few drinks. Many of these same citizens, however, do not apply the same rigorous standards when drinking while boating.

There may be a real disconnect in the minds of some boat operators when it comes to alcohol consumption while on the water. A nationwide effort that spans several branches of law enforcement is underway to educate boaters of the high accident rate associated with operating a boat while impaired.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has joined forces with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators to try and change the way that boaters approach drinking while boating. The groups launched Operation Dry Water in 2009 to address the issue. The event mobilizes marine law enforcement officials from the local, state and national levels to put thousands of officers on the water across the nation during the last week in June.

Officers check for boaters who are operating while under the influence. In 2011 the initiative led to 1,870 contacts with boaters in Wisconsin alone, and led to the arrest of 14 boaters who were allegedly under the influence of alcohol while operating their vessels. In addition, 599 warnings were issued for a range of boating-related concerns.

Wisconsin law prohibits operation of a boat while under the influence of alcohol, and state officials warn that there will be a zero-tolerance approach to violations of the law. National statistics state that among boating fatalities, operating while intoxicated contributed to almost one in five deaths. In addition, drinking while operating a boat or being intoxicated while riding on a boat can lead to impaired decision-making and an increased accident rate, including many incidents that end in death or serious injury.

Source: MuskegoNOW, "Wisconsin DNR Conservation Wardens Focusing on Alcohol Impaired Boat Operators," Mary Lazich, June 22, 2012

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