Duck Boat Tour Companies, Clean Up Your Act

Tourism companies around the country have purchased “DUKW” six wheeled landing craft to convey tourists on amphibious rides through cities they visit. These landing craft, known colloquially as “Ducks,” were initially created for military use, not to convey tourists on busy city streets.  However, the touring companies’ business model capitalizes on the novelty of the Ducks and attempts to provide and entertaining and fun experience to attract patrons. Although Duck Tours appear fun, they involve significant dangers to passengers and others vehicles on the road.

04/30/2016-Boston,MA. City of Boston first responders work at the scene of a fatal scooter accident, involving a Duck Boat tour bus, at the corner of Beacon and Charles streets, Saturday near the noon hour. Staff Photo by Mark Garfinkel
Credit: Mark Garfinkel

The operator of the Duck typically has three roles: driver, tour guide and entertainer. In addition to navigating the six ton vehicle on city streets, the operator plays music, cracks jokes, changes hats, points out sights, and generally tries to keep the passengers engaged and having fun. This demanding multi-tasking, coupled with the vessels restricted lines of sight and limited maneuverability, make duck boat tours a sure-fire formula for distracted driving. Without modification of this business model, it’s not a matter of if there will be another tragedy, it’s the matter of when the next one will occur.

Duck boat tour collisions are more common than you would think. Last year in our own state of Washington, four college students were killed and over 50 others were taken to the hospital after a Seattle Ride the Ducks vehicle collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge. Ride the Ducks admitted to more than 460 violations following investigation of the collision.

Earlier this month on May 1, a Boston Duck Boat Tours vessel fatally collided with a motor scooter driver and her passenger, killing the 29-year old driver. The Boston Herald reached out to me for an interview over my thoughts on the tragic crash. In 2010, a barge struck a Duck stalled on the Delaware River, drowning two people. Having represented a Seattle motorcyclist in 2011 injured when a Duck ran over him at a stoplight, I’m open to vocalizing my concerns about this industry. With my experience in such cases, I don’t personally feel comfortable even driving near duck boat tour vessels, let alone traveling in them.

So what do we do?

State and municipal governments need to reconsider whether duck boat tour companies are safe for our cities. In cities like Seattle and Boston, many streets are too narrow to safely accommodate these large amphibious vessels. If the government intends to let these vehicles operate on city roads, limit them to streets wide enough and open enough to accommodate their bulk and visual and mobility restrictions.

Duck boat companies also need to make sure they carefully vet their drivers and only employ those with pristine driving records. As the recent Boston Duck Tours collision revealed, inaccuracies in this process can lead to fatal consequences. Duck Boat operators also need to elevate safety over profit and limit operators to working the vehicle, and employ a second worker to act as tour guide and entertainer.

At the very least, duck boat companies should rethink their business model and make sure the highest standards of safety measures are implemented for the safety of passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and anyone who shares the road. Otherwise, it’s not if another tragedy will occur, it’s when.

If you or someone you know suffered harm for the operation of a duck,  don’t hesitate to contact me or my team at the Evergreen Personal Injury. We have the skills and experience to convey you through the legal process and win you the justice you deserve.