Editorial: Consider boat-safety law, but listen to boaters, too

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/29/2013 5:00 AM
  • Mark Black/mblack@dailyherald.com, 2006Boast travel under the Grass Lake Road bridge on the Chain O' Lakes.

    Mark Black/mblack@dailyherald.com, 2006Boast travel under the Grass Lake Road bridge on the Chain O' Lakes.

Labor Day weekend starts tomorrow, and with the weather as hot as it's been, you know that anyone from the area with good sense and a boat will be on the Chain O' Lakes before summer sputters into fall. Trouble is, there will be some with no sense at all planning to do the same thing.

And that's where things get dicey.

On a nice summery day, the Chain O' Lakes is a madhouse -- as crowded as a water park with revelers swimming, tubing, skiing and boating. Sometimes all in the same spot. The vast majority will be respectful of others and careful not to create big wakes, bump other boats or get too close to people in the water.

But not everyone shows good sense.

With 15 lakes, 45 miles of river and countless bars catering to boaters, staff writers Lee Filas and Mike Riopell noted in their story earlier this week, it is the busiest inland recreational waterway in the United States. Accidents are bound to happen, and with such a concentration of humanity, we're fortunate that they don't happen more often.

But a year ago, 10-year-old Tony Borcia of Libertyville was hit by a boater and killed as he tubed with his family on Petite Lake, one of the smallest lakes on the chain. The Bartlett man behind the wheel of the cigarette boat that killed him pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI. Alcohol and cocaine were found in his system.

Tony's family has sued the man as well as the Fox Waterway Agency for not regulating the speed and size of boats on the Chain or creating safe areas for people using inner tubes. Tony's aunt, state Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, is proposing tougher safety regulations that could include requiring boaters to get state licenses and tying alcohol-related crimes on the water to one's ability to drive on land.

"This makes the operators of boats more responsible and more informed," Morrison told the Daily Herald. "It's personal, obviously. But I think it's given me a different perspective."

Morrison's plan already is getting blowback from boating enthusiasts who feel all boaters are being punished for the bad acts of a few.

Boating is supposed to be fun. And most people behind the controls know what they're doing and have enough sense to do it sober. Then again, most automobile drivers have enough sense not to drive drunk. Yet we support strict laws regarding drinking and driving.

Furthermore, automobile drivers don't have to worry about so many frolicking kids occupying their space as boaters do. And boats don't have brakes. A boat in the hand of an experienced person can be tricky to control.

While we reserve judgment on some of Morrison's proposal, we recognize that tying a boat-bound DUI to a person's on-land driving license may be a potent deterrent for recklessness. Our other advice is for Morrison and others to listen to the boating community to come up with some ideas that, while protecting the public, don't take all the fun out of boating.

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