MORRIS – Gov. Pat Quinn signed three laws over the Fourth of July weekend aimed at increasing boater safety. He timed it for when many were spending time on lakes and rivers as a way to raise awareness.
“Over this Fourth of July weekend, it’s important that all residents stay safe while celebrating, especially out on Illinois’ waterways,” Quinn said in a news release. “While boating is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, everyone has to take precautions and follow the rules to keep drivers and passengers out of harm’s way. These new laws will help make Illinois’ lakes and rivers safer and more enjoyable for all.”
The signing of the new laws come at a time when boat safety is on the minds of many local residents, and three people drowned in local rivers in June.
State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, and state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, sponsored all three pieces of legislation, which are effective Jan. 1.
The laws require safety courses for younger boaters, create rules for towing people on water tubes and skis, and creates stricter penalties for driving under the influence.
“When people continue to drink and drive after they’ve been convicted of crimes relating to DUIs, sheriffs can seize their cars,” Morrison said in the news release. “Boats are every bit as dangerous as cars, and boat operators should be held to the same standard as drivers.”
Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young said Tuesday that IDNR officers operate the same way as officers on the land and conduct field sobriety tests, as well as utilize a breathalyzer to determine if a boater is operating under the influence.
The state has reported 16 boating fatalities on the water this year.
Young said over the three-day weekend IDNR officers issued 23 OUI citations and one DUI statewide, and one additional OUI is pending in a fatal accident on the Rock River.
Locally there has been three water-related fatalities on rivers in June: One in Morris on the Illinois River on June 22 and one in Marseilles one the same weekend, and a Morris man drowned June 3 when his canoe overturned on the Kankakee River in Wilmington.
In addition to the new restrictions, beginning in 2016 residents born after Jan. 1, 1998, must hold a safety certificate from the IDNR in order to operate a watercraft with a more than 10 horsepower engine.
The law exempts commercial fishermen. Those renting boats in Illinois will be required to take a safety course from the rental agency before going out on the water, but will not need certificates.
The Grundy County Sheriff’s office holds a boater safety class annually with certified instructors who are on staff at the department.
“We just held one a couple of weeks ago and we saw interest from a lot of youth in the Goose Lake area,” Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said. “If we have a greater interest due to new laws, we will gladly accommodate.”
Callahan said enforcement of the laws fall under the jurisdiction of IDNR officers.
DUI penalties have been increased, as well, to be closer to automobile related offenses.
Anyone who is convicted of three boat DUIs or anyone caught operating a watercraft with a revoked license could have their boat taken away by authorities.
The third law states that boaters towing a person, such as on a tube or on a water ski, must display a foot-long orange flag while the rider is in the water.