Boaters who leave the scene of an accident in New Jersey would face the same criminal penalties as motorists, under legislation approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

(Lidian Neeleman, ThinkStock)

The legislation is sponsored by 10th District legislators, Sen. Jim Holzapfel, Assemblyman Dave Wolfe and Assemblyman Greg McGuckin. The measure is modeled after current motor vehicle law, which makes it a second-degree crime to leave the scene of a motor vehicle accident that results in the death of a passenger, and a third-degree crime when the accident results in serious bodily injury.

"Unfortunately, it took a tragic event on Barnegat Bay a few years ago to bring attention to this," McGuckin said.

In 2008 in Ocean County, the operator of a boat left the scene of the accident that caused the death of one person and injured two others.

"The operator of the one boat continued on, in fact," McGuckin said, "accelerated from the scene to avoid prosecution, was subsequently caught and convicted of some offenses, but not nearly the more serious offense of leaving the scene because there is no such statute."

A second-degree crime is punishable by five to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. A crime of the third degree is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. The bill also includes increased penalties for failure of the operator to provide assistance to anyone involved in an accident.

McGuckin said boating laws continue trying to catch up with motor vehicle laws, such as operating a vessel while impaired.

"Those statutes caught up and unfortunately this is another one where it was not in the statutes and it was difficult to prosecute somebody," he said. "But, particularly in a boating accident, it's even more important that the individual stay at the scene, because if someone's on the side of a road, hopefully they're going to be rendered first aid by a Good Samaritan or somewhere else. But, if you're in the middle of Barnegat Bay at nighttime, as was the case here, no one may know you're there and it could lead to more loss of life. We're lucky four people didn't die that night."

The legislation next heads to the Assembly floor for a vote.