Duck boat bill offers 'common sense' ideas

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BOSTON >> The parents of a woman killed when a tour vehicle hit her scooter said Wednesday that newly proposed safety legislation, if passed, would represent "important first steps" in preventing similar accidents.

"Safety of the people on the streets is the most important thing to us right now," said Martha Warmuth, whose adult daughter, Allison, died after the April 30 crash. "We can't get our daughter back."

Warmuth and her husband Ivan joined Sens. William Brownsberger and Joseph Boncore and Rep. Jay Livingstone to announce the filing of a bill (SD 2856) setting new safety requirements for tour vehicles, particularly the amphibious ones commonly known as duck boats.

The bill would prohibit drivers of sight-seeing vehicles from also acting as tour guides, and would require the installation of cameras and proximity sensors on amphibious vehicles.

Brownsberger, who filed the bill on Friday, said its provisions address a "basic distracted driving issue" as well as blind spots that are a consequence of the duck boat design.

"We are convinced that had these two requirements been in place, our daughter would be alive today," Ivan Warmuth said. "There may be many additional measures that could be taken, but these two are obvious, important first steps."

Officials from Boston Duck Tours -- the company that operates Boston's most well-known amphibious tours, and whose vehicle was involved in the crash with Warmuth -- said they have already installed cameras on each boat and plan to add sensors.

Brownsberger told reporters he has reached out to the company and looks forward to meeting with its representatives.

Though the bill was filed late in the legislative calendar, Brownsberger said he hopes his colleagues will view it as "something that's just so, you've got to do it, let's get it done." Formal sessions end for the year on July 31.

The House and Senate chairmen of the Joint Committee on Transportation, Rep. William Straus and Sen. Thomas McGee, are both co-sponsors of the bill, Brownsberger said.

In a statement, Straus said the bill identified a number of issues that "warrant scrutiny," and McGee said it "takes another step towards ensuring that our roads are safe for residents and tourists alike."

Brownsberger described the legislation as a codification of existing best practices in the industry. Amphibious tour vehicles in Seattle started using blind spot cameras after an accident in 2011, and at least one Boston tour operator currently staffs vehicles with both drivers and separate tour guides, according to Brownsberger's office.

A statement from Boston Duck Tours said the company has "rigorous standards, training and oversight along with a fleet of modern duck boats, designed to insure the safety of the motoring public and pedestrians."

"In the weeks since the tragic accident, we have taken several steps to further enhance the safety of the vehicles to ensure that it is at the highest possible level," the statement said. "We have already installed a new camera on each duck, which will complement the eight existing mirrors to address any blind spots. We also plan to add sensory equipment to the front and back of the vehicle in the near term. We await the conclusion of the City of Boston's investigation and will collaborate with them on any additional safety procedures that they recommend."

The proposed legislation is "bigger than" the April accident, and lawmakers do not plan to wait to see the findings of any one particular investigation, Brownsberger said.

"I think it's very important that we not zero in on just this accident," he said. "From a legislative standpoint, we're not waiting for the results of an investigation, nor is there anything that could come out of this investigation that would really affect our views that these are important, common sense, basic safety practices that the industry should move to, period."


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