About the First Boating Season with Tennessee’s New BUI PenaltiesDriving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in Tennessee is a serious matter. The minimum penalties for a first offense include jail time and/or fines and fees, a required DUI class and suspension of driving privileges for one year. Additionally financial penalties can be assessed if the impaired driver caused an accident that resulted in property damage, personal injury or death. A DUI offense is a serious matter that can turn your life upside down in an instant.

There is common misconception that recreational vehicles are somehow outside the law, but

“driving under the influence” isn’t limited to passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Just last year, we wrote about DUI charges while operating an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). In the eyes of the law, operating any vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a crime. Earlier this year, Tennessee passed a new law that expanded the definition of “vehicle” and got serious about enforcement in a place that’s about as “off-road” as possible.

What is the new BUI legislation in Tennessee?

We know that we’re approaching the end of boating season, but new legislation has made the penalties for Boating Under the Influence (BUI) more severe. The statistics for boating incidents speak for themselves; BoatUS offers the following “Sobering Facts” about Boating Under the Influence:

  • About half of all boating accidents involve drugs or alcohol.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard estimates the number of non-fatal boating accidents to be 60,000 or higher with property damage well over $240 million annually.
  • Each year… boating accidents have claimed over 800 lives, more than in airplane or train accidents, and have injured thousands more. Waterways are second only to highways as the scene of accidental deaths in the country…

In consideration of these statistics, new legislation was adopted this past May that made the penalties for boating under the influence (BUI) nearly identical to those for driving under the influence (DUI). The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is responsible for policing Tennessee’s waterways, and officers of the agency put the new legislation to work over Fourth of July weekend (the new law became effective July 1 of this year).

Not incidentally, May is often considered the start of boating season in Tennessee. The new law is part of an overall effort to make our waterways and citizens safer. While the numbers won’t be in for this season for another few months, there’s something to be learned from the TWRA’s annual Boating Incident Statistical Reports. Over the past two years, the agency has been ramping up enforcement efforts with increased patrol hours and officer training.

In both 2019 and 2020, officers spent about 60% of total enforcement hours on the water. However, the total number of enforcement hours jumped from 85,188 in 2019 to 127,984 in 2020– that’s in increase of over 40,000 hours, and it shows. From 2019 to 2020, the reports show an increase in every category of enforcement – this includes vessel inspections, citations and BUI arrests. With stiffer penalties than ever before, it’s to be expected that 2021 will be a banner year for BUI arrests.

What are the new penalties for BUI in Tennessee?

For the first time, boating accidents will be treated just like motor vehicle accidents. ­­­ Captain Dale Gradstaff of the TWRA explained the details to WHNT News19, saying that the new BUI law will “mirror” the DUI law and the only difference is that offenders will not lose their driver’s license. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, First Offense DUI’s (and now BUI’s) incur the following penalties:

  • 48 hours up to 11 months, 29 days for offenders in violation of 55-10-401
  • .20 BAC or greater minimum jail time 7 consecutive days
  • You will be ordered to participate in an alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Pay restitution to any person suffering physical injury or personal loss
  • $350-$1,500 fine
  • With towing, bail, attorney, high risk insurance, court costs, school, and reinstatement fees, your first offense average costs could add up to $4,900
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed at your expense. Minimum first year costs could exceed $1,000.00
  • If two (2) convictions of DUI in 5 years, Ignition Interlock Device required for 6 months after reinstatement at your expense
  • Drug and Alcohol Treatment may be required at the judge’s discretion

Treating BUIs like DUIs raises the possibility of even more severe consequences. Jail time and fines are scary, but paying restitution for losses becomes much more dire when we recall that boating accidents incur property damage of more than $240 million each year. Even more concerning (and from the same article), “This law also applies to a boating accident that results in injuries and fatalities, meaning an impaired boater can be charged with vehicular assault or vehicular homicide charges.”

Avoiding a BUI is as simple as taking basic safety precautions (like assigning a designated driver). However, we believe that one mistake shouldn’t cost you everything. At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, we know that being charged with a DUI or BUI can seriously disrupt your life. If you or someone you know were charged with a BUI this season, don’t go it alone. Our Franklin BUI defense lawyers have been fighting for the accused since 1991. Speak to an experienced BUI attorney today by calling 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Franklin, Columbia, or Brentwood.