Last month the Massachusetts Senate approved a bill which would have increased safety features on duck boats and similar tour vehicles. The proposals were in direct response to an April crash near Boston Common which killed a twenty-eight-year-old woman on a scooter and injured her passenger. A second crash in July, in which a woman suffered minor injuries, has kept the issue in the news.
Despite a great deal of public attention being given to the issue, the Senate proposals didn’t make it into law. On the positive side, there’s now more awareness of the danger that operating these vehicles on public streets poses to pedestrians and other motorists. And although the bill hasn’t become law, duck-tour operators have already begun to act on some of the proposed changes, which will make these vehicles safer for everyone.
The original duck boats (officially DUKW) were World War II amphibious trucks designed to transport troops and supplies. Later, the vehicles found their way into civilian use. Tours that split their time between the road and the water have become their most common use. Boston has continuously hosted at least one duck-tour operator since the early 1990s, and the tours have been very popular.
But ducks were not meant for operation on city streets. Unmodified, the vehicles are more than thirty feet long and weigh six and a half tons. They were built for intense but short-duration use in combat situations, with little regard for environmental concerns or personal safety. Few of the vehicles on the road today are original, but the replicas used by many operators share many of the same shortcomings.
After the April 30 crash involving a vehicle operated by Boston Duck Tours, there were immediate calls to impose new regulations. Measures in the proposed law included requiring blind-spot cameras and proximity sensors, as well as forbidding duck drivers from also acting as tour guides. These precautions were hoped to make the vehicles safer, especially around pedestrians and smaller vehicles.
Boston Duck Tours has said that it’s moving ahead with some of these measures on its own by already adding blind-spot cameras. Proximity sensors will follow. They initially took no action on what might be the most serious concern, however: splitting the job of driver and tour guide. On most tours, the driver also acts as the guide, delivering an entertaining (but often historically questionable) presentation. It may be possible that duck drivers are better at talking and driving than most, but that can’t erase the fact that doing both at the same time is a well-documented driver distraction.
In fact, despite the attention given to using a phone or texting while driving, talking to someone else in the vehicle is actually much more likely to cause a crash. Duck drivers, who are responsible for the safety of up to thirty-six passengers as well as all of those who might cross their path, should be under more scrutiny than the rest of us. Fortunately, Boston Duck Tours has taken these concerns to heart: It’s announced that drivers will no longer lead tours, beginning in 2017.
Most ducks operate safely overall, but the vehicles have been involved in fatal accidents in the past. In 2015, five were killed and sixteen injured in a Seattle duck crash which was later blamed in part on poor maintenance practices. Perhaps the worst duck tragedy took place in Arkansas in 1999, when a duck sank into a lake, drowning thirteen. Boston has not yet seen anything on the scale of these tragedies, and we hope that thanks to these new measures it never will.
Duck boats, and all other vehicles on the road, will always hold the potential to cause damage and injury to others. Safety precautions can be taken, but there is always the risk that recklessness, negligent operation, mechanical failure, or some other factor could lead to a crash.
If you have been the victim of a car or truck crash, give Joel H. Schwartz, PC a call. We understand the practice of automobile accident law, and we offer a free consultation to new clients to discuss the details of each case. Give us a call at 1-800-660-2270 or fill out the form below to learn more.