Duck Boat Builder Requested Safety Waivers: DCReport

Federal regulators fined the company that built a tourist boat on which 17 people died in Missouri up to $1 million for a Seattle accident that killed five people, but the company still tried to dodge federal safety requirements for the boats.

The article originally appeared in DCReport.

Ride the Ducks International hired Jackie Glassman, the former top attorney for the federal agency that regulates vehicle safety, during the federal probe into the 2015 accident. The company agreed to bring its duck boats, which operate on land and water, into compliance with federal safety standards or ask for waivers.

Glassman, former chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told federal officials that 105 of the duck boats didn’t meet federal requirements for fire safety and their hoods and windshields.

Ride the Ducks International, a Branson, Mo., company asked the NHTSA for those safety violations to be called “inconsequential noncompliance” under the federal Vehicle Safety Act which is supposed to help prevent fatalities. Only 106 duck boats were in operation or ready for use in the United States in 2016.

Duck boats have been linked to more than 40 deaths since 1999, with Ride the Ducks International making the vehicles in at least three fatal accidents before the Missouri disaster.

The Branson duck boats are owned and operated by Ripley Entertainment Inc. which bought the assets of the Branson duck boat tour business in December, said Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagla-Potts. Ripley Entertainment does not own Ride the Ducks International.

In 2017, Ride the Ducks International asked the Trump administration for waivers of the federal safety requirements. There is no indication in the Federal Register that a decision has been made.

Trump left the administrator position at NHTSA vacant for the first 15 months of his term before nominating Heidi King, the deputy administrator. The Senate Commerce Committee voted in June to send her nomination to the full Senate.

The Department of Transportation press office did not respond Saturday to an email from Brian Deckard, who is listed in 2017 records as director of fleet operations for Ride the Ducks International, could not be reached for comment. A message at the business said it will be closed for business.

Glassman signed the order imposed after the Seattle fatalities as the attorney for Ride the Ducks International. The company president at the time was Chris Herschend.

“Whether in their own car or riding a tour vehicle, American motorists and passengers must be protected from dangerous mechanical defects,” Mark Rosekind, then the NHTSA administrator, said when the fine was announced.

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Call your senators to tell them you want an NHTSA administrator who enforces federal safety standards for tourist boats and all the vehicles in our nation.

Call NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King at 888-327-4236 to ask what she’s going to do about the accident that killed 17 people on Table Rock Lake or write her at NHTSA Headquarters, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building, Washington, D.C. 20590.

Ride the Ducks International told NHTSA in 2017 although the vehicles didn’t meet federal flammability standards they had other features that were “at least equivalent” and mitigated the risk of a fire happening. The company also asked for waivers about regulations of the vehicles’ hoods and windshields.

Seventeen people died Thursday night on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. after a Ride the Ducks boat swamped and sunk in bad weather. The victims ranged in age from 1 to 76, including nine people from the Coleman family in Indiana.

The 33-foot-long Stretch Duck involved in the fatal accident was one of the vehicles that Ride the Ducks International refurbished from military vehicles from 1996 to 2014. Most of the 22 Stretch Ducks operating in Missouri were built from World War II-era vehicles.

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