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Statement Announcing the Safety Board's National Recreational Boating Child and Youth Safety Initiative, Miami, Florida
Jim Hall
Safety Board's National Recreational Boating Child and Youth Safety Initiative, Miami, Florida

Good afternoon. Thank you, Senator Diaz-Balart, for your kind introduction. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said "There is no place that children go that adults have not made dangerous for them." That is why I'm pleased to be here today to focus on the efforts of Bombardier to improve the safety of our nation's waterways and the recreational boaters who use them - especially our children.

As those who will attend this boat show and the millions of recreational boaters know - our waterways are becoming as congested and dangerous as our highways. This is why recreational boating safety has been on the Board's list of "Most Wanted" safety improvements for several years.

In January 1999, I focused the Board's resources on child safety in all modes of transportation. In particular, I called upon the automobile industry to design vehicles with children in mind and, together with the state and federal governments and volunteer organizations to change the safety culture on our highways by providing child restraint fitting stations to help parents ensure that their children's safety. Last week, at the Chicago auto show, DaimlerChrysler announced the expansion of their Fit For A Kid program that will provide almost one million child safety seat checks nationwide. That's progress.

A few weeks ago, General Motors and the Safe Kids Coalition announced a 50-state mobile child fitting station program. That's progress.

Last December, in response to NTSB recommendations, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey announced that the FAA would initiate a rulemaking to require child safety seats for "lap kids" on our nation's airlines. That's progress.

And, today, at the Miami Boat Show, we turn the nation's attention to millions of children who participate in recreational boating activities as we focus on the efforts of the personal watercraft industry and, in particular, Bombardier Recreational Products to "put kids first" in watercraft safety. That's progress too.

For we are a nation of caring and responsible adults - our families put our kids first and it is time that together we stop the needless loss of life of our children on our nation's highways and waterways.

Let me briefly focus on a recent study issued by the NTSB that focused on recreational boating safety. In 1998, we published a study on PWC safety that operator inexperience and inappropriate speed were two of the major causes of fatal PWC accidents. Our investigators found that 84 percent of PWC operators had not received any boating safety instruction and that most accidents occurred during the first hour of operation. As a result, the Board recommended that rental facilities provide safety training to anyone who rents or operates one of their PWC. In addition, we asked the states to require everyone operating or riding on a PWC to wear a PFD.

There have been some positive actions taken by some states and the recreational boating industry in respond to these two studies.

    · To date, 34 states and one territory require the mandatory use of PFDs by children;

    · Only 20 states have some mandatory boating safety education requirements for children and youthful operators;

    · The Personal Watercraft Industry Association is supporting efforts to require boater education for PWC operators and mandatory use of lifejackets for PWC riders;

    · The industry now recommends that children under 16 years of age not be permitted to operate a PWC and that anyone renting one must be at least 18 years old; and

    · Manufacturers are beginning to look at new technologies that will make their vessels safer.

All of these actions will help make recreational boating safer for America's children. But more can and must be done. Today, I am asking every state to take four actions to improve the safety of our waterways.

    · Require the use of PFDs by all children aboard recreational boats. Currently, 16 states and four territories do not require children age 12 and under to wear a PFD. Some states, like California, permit a child as young as seven to be in a recreational vessel without this life-saving protection. Ultimately, we'd like to see everyone wearing PFDs while on water vessels.

    · Require the use of PFDs by all children on a PWC. In fact, everyone on those crafts should wear one.

    · Require boating education for children who are allowed to operate high-powered vessels. It doesn't make sense that teenagers and young children are permitted to operate a vehicle that can travel up to 65 miles per hour without being properly trained.

    · And, require training for any child who rents a PWC. Some states permit children as young as 12 to rent these vessels.

These four actions must be mandatory and they must be implemented now in every state. We must be willing to take the actions necessary to improve the safety culture on our oceans, rivers and lakes.

Now let me focus on a company of adults that is taking action to make our nation's waterways less dangerous for our kids and for all Americans who enjoy them. The SEA DOO and Orbital "Learning Key" technology announced today will enable parents and rental operators to limit the speed at which first-time riders and children can operate a PWC. By limiting the speed to no more than 35 miles per hour, a novice operator will be able to learn the operating characteristics of a PWC before traveling at faster speeds.

I want to thank the Personal Watercraft Industry Association and Bombardier for their positive response for recreational boating safety improvements. This is the right thing to do. I hope they feel good about it, knowing that it will save many kids from needless injury and death.

I hope that the personal watercraft industry will continue to find ways to protect children in and on recreational vessels. I believe that by putting kids first, we will all be safer.