Five people died in a collision between a “Ride the Ducks” tour vehicle and a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge. All victims were students attending North Seattle College.
A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the Duck’s left-front axle was “sheared off” in the crash. The agency has not yet determined what caused the axle failure or when the failure occurred, but witnesses said the Duck swerved and appeared to have a mechanical problem shortly before hitting the bus. Four passengers on the bus died at the scene; the fifth person died at the hospital. More than 50 people were taken to hospitals; at least a dozen remained hospitalized. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has suspended operations of the Seattle “Ride the Ducks” pending an investigation.
In 2013, the NTSB found a potentially dangerous failure point in the Ride the Ducks axle housing and recommended a fix to companies that use them. The Duck involved in the crash did not have the fix, nor has the Seattle firm repaired axles on any of its vehicles. It is unclear at this time whether the Seattle Ride the Ducks business received the warning.
This is the first time the NTSB has looked into a land crash of the amphibious vehicles, which critics say are too dangerous for city streets. The federal agency has scrutinized duck tour vehicles several times when involved in accidents on water.
Once again, such tragedy raises the questions: How often are these Ducks inspected and maintained? Who controls safety plans? Who ensures safety notices are not only received, but “fixes” are made? Some of these vehicles are running on outdated technology and finding repair parts and experienced mechanics is difficult. As safety concerns keep surfacing, one has to wonder if Ducks, whether on our roads or our waters, are safe fun or have become unsafe tourist traps.
Additionally, this crash has renewed calls for changes on the bridge. Transportation officials and lawmakers have been concerned for years about safety on the bridge, where six traffic lanes are squeezed onto the tightest six-lane highway bridge in the state, with no median. Before this latest incident, there had been 202 collisions on the Aurora Bridge since 2001. The accidents caused 124 injuries, nearly a dozen serious; twenty-one crashes involved vehicles crossing the center line. A former state representative from Seattle recalls the major issue for halting safety improvements in 1999 was money. In 2003, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) recommended a plan to move the bridge sidewalks below the road deck to allow wider car lanes and a 2-foot-wide median barrier on the road deck. Again the recommendations were stalled because of money.
Ride the Ducks Seattle has provided the NTSB with maintenance and training records, among other documents, and has been cooperating with the investigation. A spokesperson said the fleet will stay off the roads until it is determined that all vehicles are well-maintained, road-worthy and safe. The Seattle Times reported that Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D) said he is drafting a letter from lawmakers calling on the city and state transportation departments to analyze options for making the bridge safer.
It is sad that five more people have lost their lives that could have been prevented if the recommended repairs to the Ducks or bridge improvements were made. Let’s hope this tragedy is finally the one that brings about change for the safety of everyone.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. The series features super-trial lawyer Zachary Blake handling "ripped from the headlines" legal and political issues of the day. The series currently consists of Betrayal of Faith, Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, Betrayal in Black, and Betrayal High, with a sixth Zachary Blake novel due out later this year. To learn more about these topical social justice legal thrillers. please visit markmbello.com. Mark is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.