Ban on cell phone use spreads to the USCG
The crackdown on cell phone use is creeping from the highways to the waterways.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that the U.S. Coast Guard adopt a policy for using cell phones and other wireless devices on board its vessels and encourage the maritime industry to voluntarily develop policies to reduce the risks of these devices.
The NTSB’s move follows two accidents last December involving Coast Guard vessels whose crewmembers had been using cell phones in conversations unrelated to vessel operations, the agency said. One was killed and four were injured aboard a recreational boat in San Diego harbor after a Coast Guard vessel collided with it. Two weeks earlier, a Coast Guard vessel collided with a small passenger boat in Charleston, S.C., harbor, injuring six. The NTSB has not determined the cause of the accidents.
“The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.
The Coast Guard in July prohibited the use of wireless devices by operators of Coast Guard boats and restricted their use by other crewmembers. The new rule “applies to all designated boat crewmembers at all times unless use is specifically authorized by the boat coxswain,” said spokesman Lisa Novak. The restrictions came from an internal investigation of Coast Guard accidents. “During the inquiry, investigators identified the need to establish a policy on cell phone use,” she said.
The Coast Guard said it takes the NTSB’s recommendation seriously and will respond “upon a thorough review.” The NTSB, which has no enforcement authority, said it wanted an answer by mid-November.
Many states already prohibit car drivers from texting and using cell phones without a hands-free device. Early this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation banned texting by drivers of large trucks and buses.
All sides in the new debate over maritime use of cell phones concede that they may be needed if radio communication fails. However, there is no industrywide policy in place.
The American Waterways Operators hasn’t made any recommendations to its members, said spokesman Anne Burns, “but I’m sure it’s something that will be discussed.” Some operators already have cell phone policies in place.
While mobile phones may be useful in emergencies, “it is clear that their use by skippers and masters, and all crew, to receive or make calls or send text messages” needs to be tailored to the situation, Capt. Beth Gedney, the Passenger Vessel Association’s director of safety, security and risk management, wrote in the June issue of PVA SSRq s Foghorn . “While it is tempting to implement a ban on all cell phones, most PVA members find that a more complex and subtle policy is appropriate.”