Law enforcement urges safety, sobriety on area roads and waterways this weekend

A Winnebago County Sheriff marine unit boat is seen on July 2, 2014.

OSHKOSH – State and local law enforcement officials are urging drivers – and boaters – to be safe, as well as sober this holiday weekend.

"Before you go out, make sure you have a sober driver – If you do end up drinking,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Phil Koehler at a press conference in Oshkosh Wednesday. “Make sure you find a safe way home."

Area law enforcement are urging people to plan ahead for their Fourth of July plans. And if you do plan on drinking, don't get behind the wheel of a boat or a car, as OWI laws apply to not just the road, but the water.

The fact is boat operators are held to the same legal limit max of .08 blood alcohol concentration as those operating a motor vehicle.

But the penalties for having open alcohol in a car, don't apply to boats.

Just once in the last 50 years did a piece of legislation look to specifically fill that gap. That was back in 1995 – the bill went nowhere.

"When it came to the boating, I think we probably looked at what worked and what wasn't working,” said DNR Conservation Warden Chris Groth of the enforcement differences. “Just because you have a law of open intoxicants in a motor vehicle, is that solving the problem? And it wasn't, so we chose to follow the responsibility of the operator."

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, alcohol was factor in 223 traffic deaths in 2012.

That same year, the DNR reported ten people died in alcohol related boating fatalities – eight of those people drowned. Last year, that number dropped to one death.

"Do you attribute that (decrease) to enforcement and public awareness?" FOX 11’s Bill Miston asked Groth.

"There's a couple other factors – I'm going to say the other, probably major factor is going to be weather."

The nicer the weather, Groth says the more boaters and more chances for something to happen.

Law enforcement officials say it's best to have a plan for your boating day in place, as weather conditions on the water can change quickly, and you never know when a motor problem might pop up.

And when all else fails.

"If you get into trouble, give us a call."