A local debate here in New Hampshire illustrates a problem that occurs all too often all throughout the US. It usually starts with the cry of “There oughta be a law!”
One of the more contentious debates going on here is about boating speed limits. Some folks believe that it's necessary to impose a 45mph daytime and 25mph nighttime speed limit on all of New Hampshire's lakes, ponds, and rivers. The argument goes that it will cure many of the ills experienced by people out on our state's inland waters. So far those against such a speed limit have been able to hold back efforts to run a pilot program on New Hampshire's biggest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, and quash any further efforts until next year.
For those of you out there that aren't boaters, this debate may seem a little strange. The reasoning behind it is that many of us out there on New Hampshire's inland waters have to deal with sometimes hazardous conditions caused by clueless or inconsiderate boaters. From my experiences out on the lake over the years I can say that the problem has not been boaters going too fast in general so much as they aren't following existing rules and regulations.
One of the most ignored regulations deals with speeds allowed when within 150 feet of the shore or from another boat that is either stopped or moving slowly. The rules state that we are not to go above a speed needed to maintain headway or 6mph, whichever is slower (headway means enough speed to maintain control of the boat). But I've seen many boats pass close by shore or other boats at much higher speeds, which can cause damage to shorelines, boats tied at docks, or cause slow moving or stopped boats to be swamped by the offending boat's wake. It's a simple rule, really.
But somehow this has all been turned into a drive to impose speed limits on the inland waters. Frankly, such a law will do nothing except create yet another law that the state's Marine Patrol will have a tough time enforcing. Better that the existing laws, rules, and regulations be enforced than adding yet another one.
And so it is with many of the laws in the other states and the nation as a whole. When the cry of “There oughta be a law!” goes up, it is really nothing more than a means creating yet another piece of feel-good legislation. People will be able to point and say that they did something about the perceived problem.
But nothing will change, at least not until the laws that are already on the books are enforced.