Thank you, Dave, for your kind introduction. Good evening everyone and welcome to our nation's capital. Judging from your busy program, this is going to be a full and productive 2-day legislative conference.
I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to address your association for two important reasons: First, as Dave indicated, much of my career has been either as full-time staff or as one who has represented manufacturing associations similar to yours. I know firsthand how important and valuable your work is, ranging from technical training and certification, market analysis, trade show sponsorships and industry awareness, just to mention a few of the association mainstays. But I also know how your association makes tremendous contributions to the health and vitality of not only the boating industry, but our national economy as well. Now my second reason is even more important. And that is to have the opportunity to work more closely with the National Marine Manufacturer's Association and its individual corporate members to advance recreational boating safety on our nation's waterways.
After nearly two years on the White House staff I am honored that President Bush has appointed me to this important federal agency as both a Member and Vice Chairman. And I want you to know that boating safety is one of my top priorities. With only 45 days in office, this is my second speech on the topic. Two weeks ago I was in Las Vegas speaking to the International Boating and Water Safety Summit. And next week I'll be in New York along with the National Safe Boating Council to kick-off the National Safe Boating Week. I cannot overemphasize how important this issue is to me, not only as a Board Member, but also as a recreational boater with nearly 20 years experience sailing my own and other vessels.
Before I go on, I'd like to introduce two of the Safety Board employees who are here with me this evening - Kevin Quinlan and Bill Gossard of the Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments.
As many of you may know, the National Transportation Safety Board has been the conscience, if you will, of our nation's transportation community for over 36 years. Over the years, the Board's recommendations have led to numerous significant maritime and recreational boating safety improvements. These include emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) for fishing vessels, improved fire safety equipment and procedures for cruise ship passenger vessels, requirements for mandatory boating safety education, and safety improvements for personal watercraft.
I'm pleased to report that recreational boating accidents and fatalities have been declining even as the number of recreational boats is increasing. Fatalities have dropped significantly over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, serious injuries have remained rather constant. In 2001, the Coast Guard reports that there were about 13 million recreational boats in the United States - that's approximately a 16 percent increase over the number reported just 10 years earlier - and it's a number both you and I believe will continue to increase in the years to come. Conventional wisdom tells us, however, that the more vessels and operators there are, the greater the chance for increased accidents, unless we ... together continue to improve safety in the recreational boating community.
So with that in mind, I want to focus my comments this evening on four safety areas that, if implemented, will reduce recreational boating fatalities and injuries.
First, we need recreational boat operators who can demonstrate an understanding of boating safety rules and an ability to safely operate their vessel. The Coast Guard reported in 2001 that there were 6,419 recreational boating accidents resulting in 681 fatalities and 4,274 injuries. About 70 percent of those accidents involved factors that could have been controlled by the operator and 80 percent of the fatalities occurred on boats operated by individuals who had not completed a boating safety education course. We also know that the actual number of accidents may even be higher because recreational boating accidents tend to be underreported.
Second, we need to strengthen and enforce boating-under-the-influence laws. Alcohol involvement in recreational boating accidents remains a problem. In 1983, and again in 1993, Safety Board studies estimated that nearly 40 percent of the operators involved in fatal accidents were known to have consumed alcohol while boating.
Over the past twenty years every state has strengthened provisions of their boating and alcohol laws. However, passing a law does not necessarily prevent individuals from boating while intoxicated. It takes responsible boat owners and operators to heed the laws along with serious enforcement of those laws.
Third, we need to continue to improve the operational safety of personal watercraft. In our 1998 safety study on PWCs, the Board identified the need for PWC safety standards, including improved design and controllability standards; improved safety instruction for renters; and the incorporation of information on the safe operation of PWCs in all recreational boating courses.
Response to those recommendations has been encouraging. However, the Board remains concerned that comprehensive standards designed specifically to address the safety risks of PWCs have not been completed.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we need to take aggressive steps to protect our children when they're on our waterways. By teaching children to be safe passengers, we hope to ensure that they will grow up to be safe boat operators.
The Board has asked states to require the use of PFDs by all children aboard recreational boats. Currently seven states and three territories still do not require children under age 13 to wear a PFD on state waters. A number of states, permit a child as young as six or seven, to ride in a recreational vessel without wearing this lifesaving protection.
States should also require boating education for children who are allowed to operate high-powered vessels. It just doesn't make sense that teenagers and young children are permitted to operate a vessel that can travel at high speeds without being formally trained and demonstrating their ability to safely operate that vessel.
We must put our children first when it comes to safety. And, by putting them first, we make recreational boating safer for them and for everyone who wants to enjoy our nation's waterways. By working together, I know we can make a difference in improving boating safety, and thus make boating an even more enjoyable recreation.
In conclusion, tonight I would like a commitment from the National Marine Manufacturers Association to join with the NTSB in its efforts to reduce recreational boating fatalities and injuries. We need to set the bar high; and I am willing to work with the NMMA and its membership in spearheading improved recreational boating safety initiatives.