The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board announced its 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, during an event held at the National Press Club on Monday. One of the top 10 items on the List was “Eliminate Distractions” with the NTSB stating: “Contributing to the distraction problem is the widespread belief by many that they can multi-task and still safely operate a vessel. But multi-tasking is a myth; humans can only focus cognitive attention on one task at a time.”
The NTSB says vessel operators don’t always have their eyes or minds on the waterway. Increased use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) among commercial transportation employees has made distractions more prevalent and is an increasing risk in vessel operations.
In heavily regulated transportation industries like marine, communicating with crew and dispatchers, checking instruments and equipment and completing scheduled tasks may be part of normal work duties, but engaging in tasks other than vessel operation impairs performance. Federal regulations should prohibit the non-operational use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions, but no such regulation exists.
In the last decade, the NTSB has investigated several marine accidents in which distraction was a cause or contributing factor. One of the most prominent accidents occurred in July 2010, when the 250 foot sludge barge The Resource, which was being towed alongside the 78.9-foot tugboat Caribbean Sea, collided with the anchored 33-foot amphibious passenger vehicle DUKW 34 in the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a result of the collision, DUKW 34 sank in about 55 feet of water. Two passengers were fatally injured, and 26 passengers suffered minor injuries.
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