During my family vacation this summer, I had the opportunity to do some water skiing and boating. Similar to my last post, things have changed a little bit in the past couple years. A new law was passed saying that no one can drive a boat without a boating license, unless you were born before the year 1985. Notice the grandfather clause, usually not a good sign.
I admit that there are legitimate reasons for a grandfather clause, however, in this case I think they were put in because most people wouldn’t vote for it otherwise. Why? Well because most people don’t want to get boating licenses and feel like they don’t need them. Instead, they are making others get boating licenses.
Is it ever a good idea to have a law that the people approve because it only applies to a small percentage of the population and not directly to them?
Philosophy aside, let’s take a look at this law. Why was it passed? Generally (though not always) laws are passed to fix some sort of problem. In this case they wanted to try and decrease the number of boating accidents and deaths that occur in Missouri every year.
There’s nothing wrong with this goal; who would be against fewer deaths and accidents? The issue is whether the benefit of the law outweighs its burden. Right now anyone under the age of 22 cannot drive a boat legally without a license.
For people from out of the state who don’t have licenses, this is an issue. I am not old enough to drive the boat, neither are my brothers nor all but one of my cousins. As you can imagine, this limits the number of drivers substantially.
At this point you’re probably wondering what I’m upset about. “Just go get a license and you won’t have to worry about any of this”. If you were thinking that, you’re right. It’s not an unbelievably burdensome process to get a license, but it is work. You have to find somewhere you can take the test or course and you have to pay for it. Annoying, but not the end of the world.
The problem in my mind is that the benefit does not outweigh this cost. As we were renting a boat one morning, one of the boat workers told us about the new license law. Apparently there have been around eight deaths on the lake already this summer.
When we continued talking, he explained that nearly all of them occurred when a bunch of people were partying on their boats and drinking up a storm. Not only was this a major contributor to boat collisions, it also created situations where drunken people fell off the boat and drowned or were run-over.
It seems to me that this is the real culprit, not that people didn’t know how to drive a boat, but that they were intoxicated and their senses were dulled. Boating safety depends on a person’s state of mind as much as it does knowledge.
Some people are more careful and cautious than others. I’ve seen people who were grandfathered in start driving their boats without pulling the anchor up. One time I was on a boat and it drifted in to the shore and lost a piece of its propeller on the rocks. What caused this? Was it insufficient knowledge and practice? Or was it not paying attention and reacting too slowly to the situation?
In the instances I observed, it was the latter rather than the former. Having a boating license would not have fixed the problems that led to these minor boating accidents. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to me that intoxicated, licensed drivers are much safer than plain intoxicated drivers. Experience, common sense, a little prudence, and awareness seem to be the keys to safe boating.
My conclusion is that boating accidents and fatalities have been addressed in the wrong way, leading to little success with high annoyance and expense. A better law would be cracking down on people who go out on their boats to party and drink up a storm. If these are where the majority of fatalities are coming from, higher fines and jail time would be more appropriate measures than penalizing everyone under the age of 22 who wants to drive a boat.