By Meg Bernhard Globe Correspondent June 15, 2016
The parents of a 28-year-old woman who died after a duck boat struck her in April spoke out Wednesday in support of a bill to regulate the amphibious vehicles, saying if such measures had been in place their daughter might still be alive.
The legislation would mandate that all vehicles which operate both on land and in water contain blind-spot cameras and sensors to detect when other vehicles are near. Additionally, the bill would bar people driving sightseeing vehicles from simultaneously giving tours; instead, a second person would be required to narrate and point out landmarks.
Just over a month ago, Allison Warmuth was killed near Boston Common when a duck boat ran over her motor scooter, raising concerns about the large vehicles’ blind spots. Warmuth was stopped in front of the vehicle when a red light changed and the duck boat moved forward. She was unable to accelerate out of the way.
“This was a preventable accident,” said Ivan Warmuth, Allison’s father, at a press conference to present the bill. “My daughter did nothing wrong. She was exactly following the rules of the road. But the accident was a result of the systemic flaws in the design, safety equipment, and operation of these vehicles.”
The Boston Duck Tours company responded in a statement that “safety has always been the number one priority for Boston Duck Tours” and said it is making adjustments to its vehicles.
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“We have already installed a new camera on each duck, which will complement the eight existing mirrors to address any blind spots,” read the statement. “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.”
William Brownsberger, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the bill’s cosponsor, presented the legislation Wednesday, along with Senator Joseph Boncore and Representative Jay Livingstone. Brownsberger said the bill was intended to address the issue of distracted driving that operators of many sightseeing vehicles face as they both drive and narrate a tour. Another portion of the bill specifically focuses on duck boats because of their large size, he said.
“Duck boats have huge blind spots as a result of their sloping front surface, which is designed to make them hydrodynamic,” Brownsberger said. “The result of that is the possibility for tragedy.”
Brownsberger said he and the Warmuths researched best practices in other states where similar accidents occurred. Duck boats in Seattle were required to install cameras after a crash in 2011, and last fall, after a fatal collision with a bus, safety commissioners required the duck boat company to use “paired” tours, so drivers did not have to narrate behind the wheel.
According to Brownsberger, the Registry of Motor Vehicles would ensure that the vehicles had cameras and sensors. He said there are currently no plans on how to ensure that the person who is driving a vehicle is also not giving a tour.
Martha Warmuth, Allison’s mother, said she had reached out to Boston Duck Tours after the accident to ask that they install cameras and add another person to narrate a tour while someone else was driving. The company said it was in the process of installing cameras but would not add another person until after the police completed their investigation.
“We found that to be very dissatisfactory,” Martha Warmuth said, her voice trembling slightly. “It’s obvious these vehicles are unsafe. So to continue to have that situation with distracted drivers is a real problem.”
The bill does not include more extensive background checks or hiring criteria for drivers. The driver of the duck boat that killed Warmuth had been cited for speeding 10 times since 1994 and also faced a number of other driving infractions.
Brownsberger said he hopes the bill, which he believes is “uncontroversial” and “common sense,” will pass before the end of the legislative session in July. If so, it would go into effect in April 2017. “We are convinced that had these two requirements been in place, our daughter may be alive today,” Ivan Warmuth said.