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Saturday, December 9, 2023

North Carolina enacts tougher laws on drunken boating

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While it won’t be in effect for the holiday weekend, North Carolina enacted a new law on Monday that will increase the penalties for those convicted of operating a boat while intoxicated, bringing them more in line with DWI penalties.

The bill, named for 17-year-old Sheyenne Marshall, who was killed on Lake Norman last year by a drunken boater, was unanimously approved by the North Carolina General Assembly. Gov. Pat McCrory signed Sheyenne’s Law on June 27 during a ceremony at her Cox Mill High School in Concord, North Carolina. The law won’t take effect until Dec. 1.

“This bill cannot bring Sheyenne back to us, but it can help save others by sending a strong message that drunk driving in a boat is just as dangerous as in a car,” McCrory said in a press release. “With summer here and millions of people flocking to our state’s lakes and beaches, I want to remind everyone not to drink and drive.”

The law makes a fatality or serious injury occurring from drunken boating a felony. Current state law classifies drunken boating a misdemeanor with a minimum $250 fine.

During a May press conference in Wrightsville Beach, state law enforcement officials said there would be extra enforcement on the road and on the water during holiday weekends, including checkpoints by boating ramps to deter drunk boating.

North Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving executive director LaRonda Scott said the problem of drunken boating can be magnified once boaters leave the water, towing a heavy boat from the ramp while still under the influence.

“Those thousands of pounds turn into a weapon on the highway,” Scott said during the press conference.

During the press conference, District Attorney Ben David said the proposed increase in penalties was needed to bring boating laws in line with laws that restrict drinking and driving.

“Boating accidents can result in much different punishment, even though they are no less fatal,” David said.

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