New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law applies to most motor vehicles, such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, and e-bikes. Riders of non-motorized bicycles are not subject to New Jersey DWI laws. A separate statute addresses operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The boating while intoxicated (BWI) statute is similar to the DWI law, but not identical. The fact that the two laws have different penalties has some important effects. Courts can use prior DWI convictions to enhance the penalties for a new DWI offense. The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that past BWI convictions do not count as prior convictions when determining the penalties for a DWI conviction.
The structure of the BWI law is almost identical to the DWI statute. It prohibits operating a “vessel” in two situations:
– While under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or
– With blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more.
It defines “vessel” as “a boat or watercraft…used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” A “power vessel” is one that has “machinery for propulsion.” The BWI statute applies to power vessels and vessels that are at least twelve feet long. A canoe that is less than twelve feet long, for example, would not be covered by the law since it is not a power vessel. A motorboat of any length would be covered.
The BWI statute also determines penalties the same way as the DWI statute. It establishes four levels of the offense:
1. First offense with BAC of at least 0.08 percent but less than 0.10 percent;
2. First offense with BAC of 0.10 percent or more, or while under the influence of drugs;
3. Second offense; and
4. Third or subsequent offense.
Penalties may include driver’s license suspension, loss of boating privileges, fines, and jail time.