SPRINGFIELD - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation increasing penalties for reckless operation of a watercraft - and for leaving the scene of a boating accident involving a fatality or injury. Senate Bill 2164 was introduced following a reported hit-and-run boating accident on the Fox River in McHenry County last year in which a man was seriously injured.
“A tough state law that takes aim at reckless boaters is a must. This will hopefully send a strong message to boaters in Illinois that we are serious about boating safety,” Governor Blagojevich said.
Reckless and careless operation of watercraft is the leading cause of boating accidents resulting in injuries to boat operators and passengers in Illinois. Sponsored by Sen. Pamela J. Althoff (R-Crystal Lake) and Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-Woodstock), SB 2164:
· Increases the penalty for reckless operation of a watercraft from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor (6 mos.- one year in jail and/or up to a $2,500 fine).
· Creates the new offense of aggravated reckless operation of a watercraft for cases in which great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement results. Aggravated reckless operation of a watercraft is a Class 4 felony (1-3 years in prison and/or a fine up to $25,000).
· Failure of a watercraft operator involved in an accident resulting in a fatality or injury to remain on the scene of the accident is a Class A misdemeanor.
· Any person who fails to remain on the scene of an accident must report the accident to the nearest police or sheriff’s office within one hour. Failure to do so is a Class 2 felony (3-7 years in prison and/or up to a $25,000 fine) if the accident results in a fatality or a Class 4 felony if the accident does not result in a death.
· Individuals convicted of reckless operation of a watercraft or failure to remain on the scene of an accident will have their boating privileges suspended by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for at least one year.
· Individuals operating a watercraft while their privileges are suspended will be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 4 felony for second or subsequent offenses.
· No one may receive court supervision for an operating under the influence violation more than once.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Boating Accident Report for 2003 indicates careless or reckless operation was the most frequent cause of boating accidents. Careless or reckless operation was listed as the primary cause of 14 of the state’s 84 boating accidents last year, resulting in 16 injuries and two fatalities. Other frequently cited primary causes of boating accidents include operator inattention, alcohol use and hazardous water conditions. Authorities statewide last year issued 188 citations to boaters charged with operating under the influence.
“This new law provides penalties for serious safety violations on the water that mirror offenses found in the Vehicle Code,” said Joel Brunsvold, Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which administers the state Boat Registration and Safety Act. “Boat operators involved in accidents must understand that, if they are able, they are to aid and assist others injured in the accident and cooperate with authorities investigating boat accidents.”