Chairman Hersman

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Closing Statement
Marine accident report – Collision of Tugboat/Barge with Amphibious Passenger Vehicle,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 7, 2010
Washington, DC — June 21, 2011

(As Prepared for Delivery)


I want to thank my fellow Board members for their participation today.

In closing, I'd like to recognize the outstanding effort of the Safety Board staff who completed the accident investigation and developed this excellent report; in particular, the staff from the Office of Marine Safety and Office of Research and Engineering. Tom Roth-Roffy, the Investigator-in-Charge, and his team did an excellent job, and all of them deserve recognition.

This accident draws attention to the actions and decisions of one individual and highlights the tragic consequences of not following procedures.  But more importantly, it provides yet another data point in our investigations of accidents caused by distraction involving electronic devices.  This accident is not just about one individual’s actions, but about a new and highly troubling societal norm. 

New technology in the last ten years has resulted in just about everyone throughout the United States being available 24/7 – many of us do not have the option of being “unavailable.”  This means that both individuals and organizations must deal with this issue in a thoughtful, yet aggressive manner.

So as in this accident, if an operator has a personal emergency, he should ask to be relieved from duty so he can manage it and so that the “relieving” operator’s full attention can be on the job at hand.  It also means that when people’s lives are in your hands — whether you’re piloting a tug, conducting a train, flying a 757 or even driving home this evening — you take responsibility by giving your full attention to the safety-critical task at hand.  Small deviations can become large problems; there simply is no conversation or action that is important enough to risk your life or the lives of others.

Because the use of electronic devices has played a role in accidents in all modes of transportation, including marine accidents, we are calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to increase its focus on their use by mariners.

The use of electronic devices and their ability to distract each of us has the potential to reach epidemic proportions.  It is well past time to pay attention.

We stand adjourned.