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SPEAK OUT: Personal Watercraft Safety Debated

A law enforcement official calls them 'an accelerator with handle bars.' Several injury incidents with the vehicles have made national headlines recently.

The accident on Lake Lanier that critically injured the son of superstar Usher's former wife last week has gotten plenty of media attention. However, it's not the only recent injury-causing case nationally involving personal watercraft -- called "an accelerator with handle bars.' And the incidents are drawing attention to safety issues and state regulations.

A recent article in USA TODAY noted the following:

  • Blair Holliday, a sophomore wide receiver at Duke University, suffered head injuries while jet skiing on July 4 and is in critical condition.
  • In June, a 16-year-old girl died from injuries she received when the inner tube she was riding on was struck by a personal watercraft in Juneau, Alaska.

The Atlanta-area case involved Kyle Glover, 11, the son of Tameka Foster, who was formerly married to Usher, a Johns Creek resident. Glover and a 15 year old girl were in an inner tube on Lake Lanier when they were hit by a Waverunner. The incident report identified Jeffrey S. Hubbard, a family friend, as the driver of the personal watercraft.

-- What safety regulations should Georgia enact at Lake Lanier? Tell us in the comments below.

Glover reportedly has been declared brain-dead by doctors. Children's Hospital has issued no official statement on the condition.

According to USA TODAY, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) is pushing for increased education and safety requirements for those riding the more than 1.29 million jet-propelled watercraft registered across the U.S.

"It's simply because we feel that it is important that these vessels be operated safely," association Executive Director David Dickerson said. "They are unique. They require a certain level of judgment and expertise."

"As far as I'm concerned the lake hasn't been as safe since they first started showing up," said Captain Harry Chapman with the Hall County Sheriff's Office reserve unit.

An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out the unique nature of personal watercraft -- they have no brakes.

"As far as I'm concerned the lake hasn't been as safe since they first started showing up," said Captain Harry Chapman with the Hall County Sheriff's Office reserve unit. Chapman grew up on the banks of Lanier. "People just don't know how to operate them. They don't have brakes. All they are is an accelerator with handle bars."

The PWIA is urging states to adopt laws including minimum operator age of 16, mandatory education, mandatory life jacket wear and other safety requirements, Dickerson said.

In Georgia, the minimum operator age is 12. The watercraft devices can weigh as much as 800 pounds. (The USA TODAY article contains a graphic which includes various state laws for operation of the devices.)

Georgia law apparently requires no boating education course before renting a vehicle. And at least one area boating industry executive thinks the state should change that.

"A lot of people just don't know the rules of the road, to be very simple," said Scott Cunningham of the Metro Atlanta Marine Trade Association, in an article on wsbtv.com.

The recent personal watercraft incident has added to public outcry over general boating safety at Lake Lanier, metro Atlanta's aquatic retreat. Since April, three Gwinnett residents have been killed on the lake in various boating accidents.

The lake has been called a "death trap" in comments posted on Twitter.com.

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Ross Crawford July 11, 2012 at 11:26 PM
The DNR has more restrictions and license requirements on fishing, than on boats or jet skis on Georgia's lakes. Motorcyle riders have license requirements too. It is way past time to address the same requirements regarding the operation of any motorized watercraft.

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