The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued two recommendations yesterday to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the use of wireless devices during the operation of Coast Guard watercraft. The recommendations decry a need for regulations governing such use amongst both the Coast Guard and the maritime industry in an effort to prevent the consequences of distraction.
The recommendations come in the midst of two separate investigations being conducted by the NTSB into two collisions between Coast Guard patrol boats and passenger vessels. Both accidents, which occurred in June and December of 2009, sent passengers into the sea, resulting in several serious injuries and one death. The investigations into the incidents revealed that crewmembers on the Coast Guard boats had been engaged in text messaging and conversations on wireless devices while on duty.
The NTSB issued a press release detailing its recommendations. The first implored the Coast Guard to "develop and implement national and local policies that address the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels." The second recommendation extended beyond the Coast Guard's internal operations, suggesting that the Coast Guard should "issue a safety advisory to the maritime industry that (1) promotes awareness of the risk posed by the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices while operating vessels and (2) encourage the voluntary development of operational policies to address the risk."
NTSB Chairperson Deborah A.P. Hersman stated that "the use of wireless communication devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction," adding that government at the state and federal levels have enacted regulations to combat the hazards of distracted operation, and the Coast Guard should follow suit.
The recommendation to the Coast Guard comes in a year that has seen a massive and publicized crackdown on distracted driving around the country. As of August, 2010, thirty states have prohibited texting while driving, including 8 that have almost entirely banned any use of cell phones while driving.
In her closing remarks regarding the recommendations to the Coast Guard, Hersman underscored the importance of ending the trend of operating any vehicle while distracted by wireless devices, saying "lives are being unnecessarily being put at risk and lost."