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August 20th, 2010

NTSB Takes on the Coast Guard: Need to Avoid Distracted Driving Extends to Coast Guard Crewmembers

According to National Transportation Safety Board findings, a crewmember aboard the 33-foot Coast Guard patrol boat involved in a deadly crash with a recreational vessel during a boat parade on San Diego Bay Dec. 20 was using a cellular telephone for conversation or text messaging unrelated to the vessel’s operation, at the time of the incident.

An 8-year-old boy was killed and five other people aboard the 24-foot Sea Ray were injured. No Coast Guard personnel were injured.  Four petty officers are facing charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.  The family of the child killed, Anthony Cole DeWeese, has sued the federal government for unspecified damages.

The NTSB did not say how the device was being used or what the crewmember’s role was on the boat, but it said the accident raises concerns about the potential for distraction.   All crewmembers are considered to be lookouts when a vessel is under way.

The Coast Guard issued a policy on July 16 that prohibits use of wireless devices by a vessel operator — the person at the wheel and throttles — at all times while under way. The policy also prohibits other crewmembers from using the devices unless expressly approved by the boat operator or coxswain.

The NTSB said the Coast Guard needs to do more, like identify risks associated with distracted driving and address them in its policy.

The Coast Guard said the patrol boat — which witnesses reported was speeding through the harbor at the time it struck the DeWeese boat — was responding to a report of a grounded vessel at the time of the collision.

The hazardous use of cell phones has been the focus of multiple prior probes into train collisions and vessel allisions that have killed many people.  The dangers of distracted driving don’t just apply to car, truck and motorcycle accidents.  Crewmembers involved in guiding vessels in navigation around the world must be cautious when engaging in any behavior that can potentially distract their attention from the vessel’s charted course.

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