In 2011, the number of Illinois fatalities related to alcohol and boating soared to nine – the highest number since 2004. This makes Illinois the second-worst state in the nation for alcohol-related boating fatalities (Wisconsin ranks number one). The 2011 fatalities included boaters on Lake Michigan, canoeists on our state’s rivers, and everything in between.
Nor was 2011 an aberration. In fact, the number of alcohol-related boating fatalities has climbed each year since 2004, in an ever-increasing tide distressing to our experienced personal injury attorneys and other boating experts. Indeed, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports that drinking is almost always a factor in Illinois boating accidents – all of them.
Indeed, across the country, 40 percent of boating deaths were alcohol-related. But what makes Illinois unique is that the number of alcohol-related boating deaths is on the rise here, while these deaths are declining almost everywhere else.
Part of the blame can be laid squarely on the boating culture in Illinois. For example, the Chain O’ Lakes, a popular boating hot spot in Lake and McHenry counties, is packed with boat-up bars – facilities where boaters can park their boats, drink, and climb right back behind the wheel. Local boaters are so aware of the dangers of the drunken vacation boaters that the “unwritten rule” is to park your boat at your home by noon on Saturday – and don’t go boating again until Sunday evening after 5.
Also contributing to the problem, as our boating injury attorneys are too-well aware, is the lack of police presence. Conservation police are the law enforcement personnel responsible for enforcing drunk boating laws. But budget cuts have left conservation police struggling to maintain a presence. In fact, budget cuts have reduce the number of conservation police by about one-third – and all-time low – leaving 125 officers to enforce the drunken-boating laws across all the states waterways.
It would be easy to dismiss drunken boating as an action that is dangerous only to those involved – after all, boats seldom pass too close to each other on the open waters of Lake Michigan, right? Unfortunately, no. Like drunk driving, drunk boating endangers everyone on our waterways. For example a Bartlett woman was recently inured when her pontoon, which carried her and her two 4-year-old sons, was struck by a drunken boater. And the combination of sunshine and the vibrations of a boat can make the effects of alcohol worse – meaning that those who believe they know their “limits” in the context of drinking at a bar or at home become intoxicated to the point of danger much faster on the water.
The attorneys of Passen & Powell urge our readers to combat the culture of drinking and boating, and ensure that, as with driving a car, a designated driver is appointed when boating – and that person does not drink, at all. We also urge our local and state legislators to take this problem seriously, and to pass laws and step up enforcement before the dangerous culture of drinking and boating can take hold and grow worse.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500