By: State Senator Katy Ives – Dec. 2016
The sight of military-style vehicles barreling down the narrow streets of Boston is a common one to those who live or work in the city. People may wonder how the iconic duck boats can safely manage to navigate the streets with bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians, all while giving tours. The truth is—they cannot.
On April 30, 2016, a young woman named Allison Warmuth stopped her scooter at a red light just down the street from the State House. The duck boat idling behind her lurched forward when the light turned green, unaware of Allison hidden in the bulky vehicle’s blind spot. The tour boat struck and killed her.
This incident mobilized her parents, safety advocates and lawmakers to demand common sense measures to reduce the likelihood of a similar tragedy happening again. When I heard the news of what happened at the corner of Charles and Beacon, I was eager to co-sponsor a bill filed by my colleague, State Senator William Brownsberger, in order to put an end to the dangerous operational practices of some duck boat tour and trolley companies.
Senate Bill 2473, “An Act Relative to Amphibious Sight-Seeing Vehicle Safety,” not only mandates the installation of blind spot cameras and sensors on amphibious tour vehicles, but critically, it would also not allow drivers to simultaneously drive and give tours to passengers. Instead, a second person, who is not driving, would be the tour guide. Critically, this bill was enacted in both the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives on December 1. The Governor has ten days to sign the bill in order to make it law.
For there to be any modicum of reasonable safety, there should be a driver focused on driving, and a tour guide focused on providing tour descriptions. Presently, tour operators may have one staff person, responsible for both driving these large vehicles, and giving detailed audio tours through Boston’s busy streets. And there are no requirements for blind spot cameras.
In response to the tragic death of Allison Warmuth in April, as well as several other incidents thereafter, some duck boat tour companies offered empty solutions meant only to quell a growing public relations storm, rather than a true desire to quickly improve safety conditions. Their lack of responsiveness and insensitivity to the loss of human life on account of their operations was inexcusable, and created the urgency of this legislation. To put it simply, if the company does not want to pay two staff people to ensure a safer operation for passengers, drivers and pedestrians, then this legislation will hopefully mandate it.
The requirements of this legislation should already be happening in response to this tragedy, but they are not, and that is why this legislation is so important. I thank State Senator Will Brownsberger for filing this bill and drawing needed public scrutiny to these dangerous practices, and I look forward to Governor Baker signing the bill into law.
Senator O’Connor Ives can be reached at KATHLEEN.OCONNORIVES@MASENATE.GOV