Thursday, June 5, 2008

BUI or Drunk Boating in California - Driver's can keep licenses

California BUI - drunk boaters can keep driver's licenses
BUI or drunk boating is both dangerous and criminal, but it isn't grounds for losing your license to drive a car.

That was the ruling this week from a state appeals court in Los Angeles, which found no legal basis for the Department of Motor Vehicles' practice of suspending the driver's license of anyone convicted of BUI - boating under the influence.

California law often treats drunk boating much the same as drunk driving, apart from the fact that recreational boaters don't need licenses. It's illegal to pilot a vessel or use water skis while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, the same limit that applies to drivers. For a commercial vessel the legal limit is even lower, .04 percent.

BUI or drunk boaters can be jailed up to six months for a first offense, or up to a year for a second offense, with stiffer penalties for causing injury or death. The law also requires violators to take a boating safety course.

The case involved two men with histories of California DUI - drunk driving and license suspensions whose driver's licenses were suspended again after they were convicted of drunken boating in unrelated incidents. They sued and won an injunction from a Los Angeles judge barring the DMV from suspending any driver's license for boating while impaired.

In its appeal, the agency argued that drunken boaters are also likely to drive cars while under the influence, so pulling their licenses would protect the public. The DMV also cited a state law that says a drunken driver who has a record of boating under the influence can be sentenced more severely.

But the Second District Court of Appeal said the law is "aimed at driving offenses, not boating offenses," and authorizes a license suspension only for drunken driving.

The court also said the DMV's current position differs from the stance it took in 2004, when it asked the Legislature to allow driver's license suspensions of drunken boaters. That bill didn't pass, but the agency could try again, the court said.

California DUI lawyers applaud the court's efforts while condemning the DMV's past actions.