Good afternoon, President Engfer, members of the Executive Board, Boating Law Administrators, and honored guests. It is a pleasure to be here with you today. I appreciate receiving this year's National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) Award. It represents an acknowledgement of the hard work of the men and women at the National Transportation Safety Board to improve transportation safety for the American people.
I last spoke to you two years ago at the Charleston, South Carolina annual conference. Since then there have been numerous initiatives by your organization and the NTSB to improve recreational boating safety. But more needs to be done. Recreational boating sales continue to increase. For example, the number of boats reported by the States to the Coast Guard has increased by more than 400,000 since I last addressed you. Accidents exceeded 8,000 last year, an increase of nearly 33 percent from six years ago. In the past year, Michigan saw an increase of 35 percent in accidents and California, coincidentally, reported an increase in fatalities of 35 percent.
Our waterways are quickly becoming as congested and deadly as our highways. We must be willing to aggressively protect the safety of those traveling on our rivers and lakes as we do those traveling on our Interstates and streets. The American public expects - and we should demand - no less.
This means that at a minimum, every state should have a comprehensive safe boating program that includes the following four elements:
- Boating-while-intoxicated (BWI). Every state should have a defined blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level and an implied consent provision. Only Iowa does not have a defined BAC; all others have either 0.10 or 0.08. And I believe Iowa is on the verge of enacting a BAC, having almost done so this past year. We are still waiting on some states to implement implied consent when it comes to boating.
- Mandatory use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) for children. So far, 35 states have this element.
- Mandatory education and operator licensing. This has been the toughest sell so far, but I am more optimistic now than I was two years ago because we've heard from a number of states who intend to pursue this and two states, West Virginia and Oregon, implemented mandatory boating education this year. And,
- Personal watercraft (PWC) safety laws that would include standards for PWC rental operations, incorporate PWC safety into all recreational boating courses, and require PFDs for all persons aboard personal watercraft, regardless of age.
These provisions will go a long way toward providing an environment in which children and adults can safely enjoy a major part of our nation's natural beauty - our waterways. But, if that is to happen, we must have uniformity of recreational boating laws. We want all state regulations to be the same so that if someone rents a personal watercraft in Arkansas, they must have the same qualifications as someone in Florida or Rhode Island or Arizona. Similarly, children boating in Georgia should have the same protection as children boating in New York or Oregon. Your task is to make that happen.
To accomplish that mission, however, you must have adequate funding. I support your efforts to resolve the budget scoring issue, so that boating safety trust funds carried as a line item in the Coast Guard's annual appropriations would increase its budget rather than displace its general funds. Full funding, as authorized in the Transportation Efficiency Act 21 (TEA-21), would provide the states' boating safety programs almost $72 million annually. That's almost $13 million more than the states received in FY 1999. Those additional funds will go a long way in helping to improve the safety of those using our waterways. The states must do their fair share as well to ensure that there is sufficient state funding for these programs. It will then be up to you to show that those funds are being used effectively to reduce accidents and fatalities.
Let me close by saying how much I have appreciated working with both Ted Woolley and Bill Engfer over the years, and that I look forward to working with your incoming President, Paul Donheffner, in the coming year. And, I especially want to acknowledge Ed Carter for his endeavors to improve recreational boating safety on the rivers of Tennessee while I was in Governor McWherter's office and since I've been on the Board. It was Ed who first spurred my interest in improving recreational boating safety.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and thank you, too, for all of the efforts of everyone at NASBLA to improve recreational boating safety. I look forward to many more years of success through the cooperative efforts of our two organizations.