Does water and drug and alcohol testing mix? In most parts of the country, yes, but not in WA. However, that’s all about to change.
Amendments to the Western Australian Marine Act 1982 allowing drug and alcohol testing on WA waterways have been introduced to State Parliament. The new laws will bring WA in line with most states and territories in Australia, where drug and alcohol testing on waterways is carried out.
Drugs and alcohol contributing to accidents on the water
A special working group formed to investigate the changes found the use of drugs and alcohol was a significant contributing factor to accidents on the water. They found that between July 2011 and February 2022, drugs and alcohol may have been a factor in 88 deaths, 66 serious injuries and 167 hospital admissions reported in WA waterway incidents.
The working group reviewed local incident statistics, data-based evidence from states where marine drug and alcohol testing is already in place and local research. They found that there was a strong community expectation that Government has a role to play in reducing the use of drugs and alcohol while boating.
What do the new drug and alcohol testing laws mean in WA?
The new laws are expected to be introduced in stages over the next year.
The new laws will include:
- Legal limits on levels of blood alcohol. The blood alcohol content limit will be 0.05 and graduated penalties for being above this limit will align with road laws in WA, including 0.05, 0.08 and 0.15.
- Watercraft operators also won’t be able to operate vessels with drugs in their system. Drug testing will test for cannabis, ICE, speed and MDMA (ecstasy).
- Department of Transport (DoT) and WA Police Force officers will be able to conduct drug and alcohol testing of watercraft operators in WA, anywhere, anytime.
- New offences to target the unsafe operation of vessels.
- increased penalties for skippers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The new laws will essentially mean that WA watercraft operators will face the same laws, limits and penalties as road users.
The laws will apply to all WA watercraft, including personal and commercial watercraft, sailboats, dinghies and tenders. It will not apply to craft such as stand-up paddle boards, windsurfers, kiteboards and other types of non-motorised watercraft.
How WA marine drug and alcohol testing will work
Under the new laws, any watercraft operator can be stopped and tested if it’s believed their operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In addition, anyone involved in a boating incident in WA will face mandatory drug and alcohol testing. If officers are not able to identify the watercraft operator, all people who were on board the vessel at the time of the incident may be tested.
Like road rules, vessels that are secured, either at anchor, to a mooring or jetty are not considered to be operating. However, officers can conduct a drug or alcohol test if they suspect that a watercraft operator has recently been operating the vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol attempts to operate a vessel.
Strong message on the dangers of alcohol and drugs on waterways
It’s hoped the new WA laws will send a strong message to people that drugs and alcohol do not mix with water activities and consequences can be fatal.
The WA Government says that when on the water, the combination of wind, waves and the sun can magnify the effects of alcohol and drugs. This can negatively impact people’s judgement and skills.
While the laws only apply to operators, the same message applies to everyone on board a watercraft. Drugs, alcohol and water activities can be a dangerous combination.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
Drugs, alcohol and water activities can be a dangerous combination. The WA Government is amending laws to allow drug and alcohol testing on waterways. Credit xiquinho https://www.flickr.com/photos/xiquinho/33228190155/