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Reckless Boating

By: JULIA MONTEJO
State Capital Bureau

February 21, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Thomas Arey was coming home from dinner at a restaurant on the Lake of the Ozarks last summer when his 26-foot boat was his hit by speeding boat.

A night out on the lake demolished Arey's boat and nearly cost him his life. His back was fractured. Six others on the two boats suffered injuries ranging from a concussion to numerous bruises.

Arey, who has been boating since 1975, has become a proponent of legislative efforts to impose tougher safety standards on Missouri boaters.

"It is foolhardy not to have as much safety on our lakes as we do on our highways and this is a nice way to say it".

In 1994, 17 people died and 222 were injured from boating accidents in Missouri.

According to state Water Patrol figures, the Lake of the Ozarks _ where Arey nearly lost is life _ suffers the greatest number of boating accidents.

The accident rate over the past four years has grown twice as fast at the lake.

From 1990 to 1994, the Water Patrol reports that the number of accidents statewide increased 40 per cent. But at the Lake of the Ozarks, the number of accidents increased 78 per cent during the same period.

Concern about boating safety in Missouri is not new. For the past several years, there have been bills filed in Missouri's legislature to toughen boating laws.

But this year, local residents around the Lake of the Ozarks have undertaken a concerted effort to get something done.

David Chase, who has a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks, collected 4,000 signatures on a petition calling for tougher boating laws.

"The problem arises because people don't have to have experience or qualification to drive a boat. And some of these boats can get 80 miles per hour" Chase said.

"Irresponsible operation and alcohol abuse have been contributing factors in almost all of the accidents".

In 1994, 18 per cent of the boating accidents reported by the Missouri Water Patrol involved alcohol.

Various measures now before the legislature would impose a night-time speed limit on boats of 30 or 35 miles per hour and establish a minimum age of 14 to operate a motorized boat.

The drive for tougher standards is being led by a group at the Lake of the Ozarks called "Take Back The Lakes." In addition, the Ozark Sailing Club and Lake Ozark Yachting Association support the new legislation to toughen safe standards.

"If we don't correct the boating safety and recreational concern, then it will have a negative effect in the tourists business and affect the local economies", David Chase says.

In the meantime, Thomas Arey is thinking now in buying a new boat.

But he'll be a lot more cautious next summer.

"I will not boat at night in the dark. The speed of the boats and the darkness are not safe. Now we are trying to get the Ozarks to put blue lights on the docks. It would make it better."

Committees in both the House and Senate have approved packages that combine several of the boating-safety proposals. Both packages are awaiting debate by their respective chambers.



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