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TRAGEDY KILLS 2 ABOARD TOURIST DUCK BOAT

A deadly combination of factors in a Philadelphia waterway has left two tourists dead, a father of two young children jailed for a year, and several lawsuits still pending.

On the day of the incident, the operator of a 33-foot “Ride the Ducks” sightseeing boat anchored in a shipping channel of the Delaware River after detecting smoke and suspecting an onboard fire, cited CNN International. There were 35 passengers and two crew members on board.

Video footage shown on The Today Show revealed the shocking footage of a towed 250-foot sludge barge running over and submerging the tourist boat in a matter of seconds. Amazingly, only two tourists died in the accident.

The pilot of the tugboat towing the barge has been sentenced to one year and one day in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in the incident, after teary pleading by himself and his wife in court for leniency with the potential four-year sentence. The pilot admitted he was distracted by his cell phone and laptop prior to the collision, in part due to a call from his wife regarding complications that morning during their 6-year-old’s eye surgery.

Litigation is still pending with K-Sea Transportation of East Brunswick, New Jersey and Ride the Ducks of Norcross, Georgia. Both companies have asked the federal government to limit their liability in the incident, according to the CNN report.

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An NTSB report showed several people involved were on cell phones or computers at the time of the accident. Driving While Distracted now carries new meaning. CNN reported that an NTSB representative said the incident was “another tragic example of the deadliness of distraction.”

While this incident occurred on a waterway, cell phone distraction while driving has been an issue of increasing concern for years. As of December 2008, there were 271 million cell phones in use in the United States, representing 84% of the country’s population. Drivers are increasingly distracting themselves by chatting, texting and emailing while on the road, often resulting in dangerous accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driving while distracted contributes to one in every four car crashes. By some estimates, in as many as half of all crashes (there were six million last year), cell phone use was involved.

The widespread awareness of this problem has prompted government concern and states are now addressing the issue legislatively. Some states and municipalities have acted to ban texting while driving and/or driving with a handheld device, while six states – including Florida – have laws that prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions. In other states, localities are allowed to ban cell phone use or texting while driving. In October 2009, President Obama issued an order banning all 4.5 million federal employees from texting while driving.