NY Looks to Link DWIs in Cars, Trucks, Boats, ATVs and Other Vehicles

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

In 2010, the United States Coast Guard reported that 126 deaths and 293 injuries in boating accidents were linked to alcohol-impairment. For that same year, 27 people died on New York State waterways. This number is a slight increase from years prior. While boating accidents don't seem to get as much attention as motor vehicle accidents, the common culprit in many crashes is alcohol. As a result, New York lawmakers are fighting for stricter penalties for operating any motor vehicle while under the influence.

Senate Bill 2860-A-2011, introduced by John DeFrancisco, passed the senate. In the bill, commonly referred to as "Tiffany Heitkamp's law," provides that convictions for operating a motor vehicle, snowmobile, or all terrain vehicle (ATV) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be linked for the purpose of imposing penalties for boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The law was inspired by Tiffany Heitkamp, who was only 20 when she was killed in a boating accident on Fourth Lake in July 2006. The person responsible for the crash was arrested and found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10. The young man plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to two to five years in the state prison; however, during sentencing his two prior drunk driving charges could not be taken into consideration because they occurred in cars.

DeFrancisco attempted to pass this same legislation in 2008 and met with opposition. His then Senate Bill S3271 also sought to link various operating while intoxicated offenses.

Just weeks after the Senate passed the bill making boating penalties tougher, a Sayville man was arrested on boating while intoxicated charges (BWI). Joseph Leon, the boat operator, and passenger were both rushed to the hospital after their boat crashed into a bulkhead on the Patchogue River. Another month later, four people died and another two were injured in a boat crash along the Hudson. Evidence of alcohol use was found in the wreckage.