After 2nd duck boat crash this year, a renewed call for change
A woman walking in the Back Bay was struck by a duck boat shortly before noon Sunday afternoon, prompting renewed calls for legislation providing safeguards to prevent more accidents involving the lumbering amphibious vehicles.
The unidentified woman was struck at the intersection of Newbury and Clarendon streets, police said, where she had apparently been walking with her husband and son. She was treated at Tufts Medical Center for injuries that police said were not life-threatening.
The woman “was crossing contrary to the walk signal as the duck boat was turning left from Newbury onto Clarendon,” Boston police said in a statement Sunday. “She came in contact with the vehicle which caused her to fall to the ground. . . .”
The driver of the duck boat, which was named South End Sara, remained at the scene of the crash, which occurred at 11:25 a.m., police said. No citations were issued.
The incident comes in the midst of a push for additional regulations of the water-to-land vehicles, particularly by the parents of 28-year-old Allison Warmuth, who was killed in April by a Boston Duck Tours vehicle while riding her scooter in Beacon Hill. That accident focused concerns in part on whether the duck boats’ design and size make it difficult for the driver to see pedestrians and other, smaller vehicles.
After Sunday’s crash, Ivan Warmuth, Allison’s father, said the city should halt the Boston Duck Tours until safety changes are made.
“We’re very sorry to hear about this, obviously,” said Warmuth, who went to the scene with his wife, Martha, after they learned about the crash. “It’s an indicator that what we are asking for in the Senate bill is needed. The city should shut down the duck boat operators until they eliminate distracted driving. Even if it’s not a serious accident, it could have been.”
Warmuth continued, “There are many close calls that don’t get reported; any one of them could have been a tragedy.”
The Warmuths testified at a legislative committee hearing Thursday about safety improvements, along with Kevan Moniri, who was on the back of Allison Warmuth’s scooter at the time of her fatal crash.
Harry-Jacques Pierre, associate vice president with Rasky Baerlein, a public relations firm retained by the tour group, said in a statement Sunday that the company was grateful to hear from police that the injuries of the woman struck Sunday were not life-threatening.
Pierre said Boston police told the company “that an eyewitness at the scene reports that our vehicle had the right of way and the pedestrian crossed against the signal.”
The driver has had a clean driving record for the past 10 years, Pierre said, and has not been involved in any accidents since he started working for Boston Duck Tours in February. The company declined to identify the driver.
Moniri said Sunday’s crash reiterates the need to toughen oversight.
“These are vehicles going from tourist site to tourist site, which are naturally some of the heaviest-trafficked parts of town,” Moniri said after being informed of the crash. “And they are doing so with a distracted driver narrating a tour, while operating a vehicle with worse blind spots than any vehicle on the road.”
Brendan Kearney, a spokesman for Walk Boston, a nonprofit that advocates for pedestrian safety, said duck boats are not suitable to urban environments where people are walking, biking, and driving.
“I’ve never sat in the driver’s seat of a duck boat, but I’m sure they are very difficult to drive,” he said. “They are vehicles that were meant to storm the beaches of Normandy. They were designed to do a very different thing than they are used for today.”
Martha Warmuth, mother of the woman killed in April, said she was troubled to hear that another person had been injured. “A lot of people don’t understand about the blind spots. We are very concerned for this person who was hit,” she said. “We call upon the city to take immediate action.”
Bonnie McGilpin, spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said that officials are “working with state and local partners to see if there are additional steps that should be implemented to increase the safety of these vehicles.”
“The mayor’s thoughts go out to the woman injured this morning,” McGilpin said.
State Senator William Brownsberger, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and cosponsor of legislation intended to address the issue of distracted driving on sightseeing vehicles, said he was saddened to hear about Sunday’s crash.
“This frightening incident only underscores the changes we are trying to make,” he said. “It’s crystal clear to me that no one can safely operate a large tour vehicle and narrate a tour at the same time, period. It’s especially true in an inherently dangerous vehicle like a duck boat.” The proposed legislation focuses on duck boats because of their large size, he had said previously.
A witness at the scene, who declined to give his name, said he heard a loud bang, turned around, and saw a woman lying on the ground. Witnesses said dozens of people crowded around the woman while passengers remained on the vehicle for a short period before getting off.
Sarah Engelbrektsson was walking down Clarendon Street toward Newbury Street when she saw the duck boat stopped near the intersection.
Engelbrektsson, 22, said she is new to Boston and had not heard of safety concerns about the duck boats. She considered them a fun way to learn about the city. But the Sunday morning crash left her wary of them.
“You would think [the duck boats] would be able to see everything since they are so high up,” she said. “I’ll just have to look four times before crossing the street instead of two.”
Martha Warmuth said she and her husband’s hearts “are broken.”
“It’s hard to understand or appreciate how serious it is with these duck boats,” she said.