April 2007

It Was Not A Good Year

OUI Arrests, Fatalities Up In 2006

PHOENIX — Last year's multi-agency numbers on Operating Under the Influence (OUI) enforcement and alcohol-related boat accidents have now been tallied. Statistics show there has been a significant increase in OUI arrests while operating a boat statewide.

In 2005, there were 375 OUI arrests, but last year it increased to 535. The obvious assumption is that there are more intoxicated boat-operators on Arizona's waterways, but other factors have been considered.

Arizona Game and Fish Department has expanded law-enforcement efforts along the Colorado River, a highly used body of water that includes lakes Havasu, Powell, Mohave, and Mead. Over the years, these waters have become more problematic for the states bordering it.

"Although there are a number of law-enforcement agencies from Arizona, California, and Nevada — including the U.S. Coast Guard — that patrols the Colorado River, it is challenging managing and coordinating public safety along the 500-mile stretch in Arizona," said Kevin Bergersen, boating law administrator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"We have improved training for water-enforcement officers, increased the number of OUI task force patrol and check points, and improved communications and coordination with our neighboring states," he said. Naturally, as the number of boat enthusiasts increase, there will be more boat-use days on the Colorado River each year, but these enforcement efforts have been a major contributor to the increase in OUI arrests last year.

Also last year, there were a record number of fatalities. In 2006 alone, Arizona waterways saw 14 deaths, the worst boating-fatality record since 1998. Thirteen of those fatalities were on the Colorado River, which also saw 387 accidents and 185 injuries.

"We can't do it alone," Bergersen said. Boating-education classes are available to the public statewide. "We'll continue to do our part. We're planning 16 to 20 OUI special projects this summer."

The state's high rate of boating OUI arrests and accidents make it clear that changing behavior and educating the boating public is essential.

The top reasons for boating accidents in Arizona are operator inexperience, weather, navigation rule violations, and operating under the influence. The Arizona Game and Fish Department currently offers boating-safety education free to the public.

To sign up for a free boating safety course, call Arizona Game and Fish Department at (602) 789-3235 or go to azgfd.gov