NASBLA Roundtable

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Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

  • 1.  Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 11-30-2021 03:39 PM
    Here is an interesting article about car accidents, and how they may have contributing factors beyond 'driver error'.

    This article compels me to ponder what other factors there are that impact boating accidents beyond DUI, improper lookout, no PFD, no education, etc.

    I personally think one of the biggest reasons boating accidents/fatalaties have gone down over the past few decades is that boats are better constructed today--just as cars are.

    Can we improve traffic seperation schemes? Can we mitigate congested boating areas? Improve lighting?

    The Deadly Myth That Human Error Causes Most Car Crashes
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    The Deadly Myth That Human Error Causes Most Car Crashes
    Every year thousands of Americans die on the roads. Individuals take the blame for systemic problems.
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    Chris Edmonston
    BoatU.S. Foundation

  • 2.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-02-2021 02:02 AM
    Good point.

    The elephant in the room of this discussion is rowing's continuing
    resistance to PFDs. In 2021 four rowers drowned -- more than the number
    of whitewater kayakers -- in routine boating accidents. In three of the
    four rescuers were within sight. None were wearing PFDs.

    33CFR175's PFD exemptions for rowers and pre-emption of state authority
    are poorly written (e.g., they apply equally to Olympic rowers and
    rowers under the age of ten), out of date (failing to take into account
    the range of inflatable PFDs currently available) and dangerous.

    These regs need to be updated and NASBLA should take the lead in
    re-asserting the authority of cold-water states to have meaningful PFD
    regulations for all boaters.

    Marc Messing

  • 3.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-02-2021 11:05 AM

    There is PLENTY of work to be done to the regs for sure!

    To me, the article compels me to look at the accidents in a different way.

    As an example, life jackets may have made a difference, but what could have been done to avoid the accident? What were the traffic separation schemes? Were there areas that the rowers could have been in that would have been safer? Are there different times that may have been more appropriate to row in the waterway? Were the rescuers associated with the rowers, and if so, did they know what to do? What could have been done to keep them in the boat?

    Certainly wearing life jackets makes a difference in most drowning situations--keeping them in the (floating) boat always avoids drowning.

    Chris Edmonston
    BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety & Clean Water

  • 4.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-03-2021 03:02 PM
    Thank you for sharing this article and connecting this same point to boating incidents. I agree, too often the contributing factors are left out of the conversation after an incident.

    My son was electrocuted by a powerline while sailing. Could he have prevented it? Maybe. It's like saying the victim of a car crash should not have been driving. Part of the mission of PLSI (Power Line Safety Initiative) is to encourage lake managers and state agencies to be proactive in making the lake safe for all types of recreational use. That includes making sure that power lines crossing lakes are inspected regularly, well maintained, line heights are at or above regulations and marked as hazards. A boat operator on a public lake should have reasonable assurance that the lake is safe.

    Michelle Brannon
    Power Line Safety Initiative

    Michelle Brannon
    Power Line Safety Initiative

  • 5.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-04-2021 01:22 PM
    I believe the largest underlying factor for boating accidents is the mindset of the operator.  There is a significant difference in the mindset of the operator at the wheel of a vessel (especially recreational) compared with that of a motor vehicle operator.  Experience is the key factor.  Let's face it, even the most experienced captain has far fewer hours on a boat then they do behind the wheel of an automobile.  Especially when you consider those who operate a boat in colder climates where waterway activity occurs only a few months out of the year.  At the beginning of every season there is a learning curve for the boat operator to overcome, especially when water conditions vary from moment to moment, water levels vary from one dry winter to a very wet one, etc...

    Recreational boaters are typically more willing to take unnecessary risks that the operator of a motor vehicle is not as willing to take.  We all see the significant impact of motor vehicle crashes, and they happen so frequently across the nation.  Most motorists are not willing to take unnecessary risks based on observations and experiences.  Relatively few boaters have first hand observations or experience of boating accidents which is why I believe we see so many issues with overloaded vessels, lack of pfd's on a vessel or the wearing of a pfd, negligent operations, and the list goes on and on and on.

    On a hot sunny day with a boat full of friends and family, many operators that I have observed are focused with going out and having fun.  They've put the stress of the work week behind them, and are committed to helping everyone on their vessel have a fun filled day, often at the risk of ignoring laws governing safe equipment and safe operation.  I have issued thousands of traffic citations on the road in my twenty years as a peace officer.  I have rarely received a complaint, and I rarely go to court with regard to my traffic enforcement.  Most people in our society understand and expect to be stopped and cited when they are going too fast, they run a red light, or they California stop the intersection ;)  They expect to be stopped if they haven't taken the time to scrape their windows on a cold winter morning, or they have a burned out headlight.  On the other hand, I have received numerous complaints, and had to de-escalate several highly agitated recreational boat operators over the years due to my enforcement and inspection efforts on the water.  People in general don't like to be bothered by the "water cops" when they are recreating.  They just want to go out and have fun, and to not be disturbed while having fun.  This is especially true with new operators on the water their first few seasons.  There is no education when someone buys a new boat with regard to safety equipment that is needed.  There is no directive or law stating that someone must take a course to operate a boat just like they would to get a drivers license for a motor vehicle.  New operators are often ignorant when it comes to understanding that there are navigational rules dictating the mode of travel on river, or who has the right of way on a reservoir.  It's open water with no lines, no traffic signals, and no posted speed limits, just GO!

    Through consistent education through a variety of means, coupled with an aggressive enforcement presence on the waterways; we can drive the number of boating fatalities down.  If we never pulled motorists over for speeding, running red lights, or careless driving, there would be no incentive for motorists to follow traffic law.  The same holds true on our waterways.  When boat operators, just like motor vehicle operators know the law and see it is being enforced, there will be more compliance on the waterways, and the risk taking behavior will decrease.

    Kenneth Mencl
    Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office

  • 6.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-18-2021 08:55 AM
    I would also like to weigh in on the boatpwc owners responsibility in many of the tragic boating accidents involving uncertified and inexperienced young operators.
    I live in Michigan and you must have a boating safety certificate to operate a personal watercraft and must be 16 years old to operate solo. It is the owners responsibility to ask and verify certification and experience before giving the keys to their vessel.
    One certainly wouldn’t give the keys to their car to someone without knowing first if they had a drivers license. It just makes sense.

    I often feel frustrated with boating accident statistics for there is no category reflecting operators given access to a vessel without the owner checking for experience/licensing. The majority of children killed on a PWC are not stealing these PWC’s or taking them out without owner permission. And yet their accident/death will be filed under “inexperience “ which is true in most cases, but the owners need to have their negligence categorized as well.

    My daughter Ashleigh was given access to a PWC by the owner to go ahead “and take it for a ride”. She had no certificate, no experience, nor had she ever been on a PWC before . She was on it less than 15 minutes when she crashed into a boat and was killed instantly. The owner of the vessel could have and should have been charged. Michigan has a penalty code for such but the prosecutor opted not to press charges.
    You are right Kenneth, it there was more “bite” given to those who own or operate a vessel in violation of the boating laws should be held accountable no differently than we do for automobiles.

    Keep up the good work.
    Jan Iserman
    Ashleigh Iserman Boating Safety Foundation

    Sent from my iPad

  • 7.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-18-2021 09:55 AM
    So sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter in what likely could have been a preventable tragedy had the owner of the pwc taken the proper safety precautions and followed the law. My heart aches for the family every time we deal with tragedies on the water, and invariably it happens every year for my team.   I couldn't agree more with your response!  Have a great weekend and Happy Holiday season.

    Kenneth Mencl
    Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office

  • 8.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-19-2021 02:14 AM
    Thank you for the kind words Kenneth and for the work that you and your team do every day.

    Stay safe,
    Jan Iserman

    Sent from my iPad

  • 9.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-19-2021 12:52 PM
    Let me see if I can reframe inexperience. The reason that inexperienced boats have difficulty is because they drive a boat as if it were a car. The fundamental difference is that a car is in contact with the road (most of the time at least). A boat is moving through a fluid. Actually, a boat has more in common with an airplane which is also moving through a fluid. The inexperienced boater doesn't understand this difference. Couple this, of course, with the differences in rules-of-the-road and other factors and there is a lot of potential for error.

    Then there is a steering wheel or handlebars. Why shouldn't a boat drive like a car or at least steer like one or a bicycle at least. And as an educator, since the new boater is familiar with the automobile, we often compare boating with driving a car. It only reinforces the comparison.

    On a practical basis, I am reminded of this difference at the beginning of paddling season. I am a reasonably competent whitewater padder. If I haven't paddled for a while or it is the beginning of the season, I get into my boat and proceed to paddle it like I was driving a car. It doesn't take me long to recognize my mistake and change my paddling behavior. I can be pretty awkward until I readjust.

    Returning to my original point, how do we educate inexperienced boaters who intuitively drive a boat as if it were a car that it doesn't drive like a car? Can this be done cognitively, or must it be experiential?

    Robert B. Kauffman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus
    Department of Kinesiology and Recreation 
    Frostburg State University
    See YouTube videos on Scholedale Productions

  • 10.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-19-2021 01:21 PM
    Robert Kaufman makes good points. I would add:

    "Couple this, of course, with the differences in rules-of-the-road

    I believe the absence of roads, lanes, crossroads and the likes have a
    profound impact on the way boat drivers see the landscape and that this
    is particularly true of inexperienced drivers.


  • 11.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-19-2021 02:33 PM
    I agree 100 %. Going in the correct direction, there are no lane markers, stop signs or traffic control other than the what the operator has learned to operate on the water.

    Sent from my iPad

  • 12.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-19-2021 02:43 PM
    Robert you make a lot of valid points and I agree. I wish we could give each student in a boaters safety education class the opportunity to see, touch and drive a boat/PWC (not unlike what we do with drivers training) before they are licensed. They are given a certificate to legally/safely operate on the open water without so much as touching a vessel.

    That is a goal of our Foundation to try and find a way to offer that opportunity. We are blessed that we have a very supportive Sheriff Department (Marine Division ) that supports our efforts.

    Jan Iserman
    Ashleigh Iserman Boating Safety Foundation

    Sent from my iPad

  • 13.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-20-2021 01:07 PM



    This is a great topic and touches on several key points that through my years of experience we, as the pointy end of the spear in boating safety have really failed to recognize. I fully agree that operator behavior is the key element in any incident.  My personal belief is that we fall short on recognizing the paradigms in our educational focused when pinpointing the problem and then addressing corrective measures.  Looking over the comments everyone hits on what I see is the most important part of operating a vessel but the fundamental understanding of how Navigation Rules actually work and should be applied remain elusive.

    Your analogy using motor vehicles is one I share but I use it in a slightly different context. The basic safety fundamentals of both boating and driving a vehicle is to avoid hitting anything. As mentioned, in the motor vehicle world, there are lanes and signs, etc., that keep drivers in their lane (no pun intended). With the lack of those boundaries and warnings boating becomes a different thing all together. What they both share is the basic fundamental of relative motion. With driving a car relative motion becomes muscle memory just as it does when walking through a crowded mall but with boating we lose all concept of it. This by-in-large is due to the way we present it or do not present it. We intently focus on the interaction of when risk of collision actually exists, crossing, overt taking or meeting, rather than identifying risk of collision prior to having to take action far before having to react to close quarters situations. What adds to the problem is that while operating a car or vessel the primary responsibility of the operator is driving the vehicle. One of the things I always stress when looking at initial causes of an accident is if the operator was more involved in the activity than the vessel operation. I understand the differences, you don't fish from or tow the kids behind the car but we don't emphasize that difference or focus on how the responsibility of the operator to separate themselves and pay more attention to operate the boat, this brings me to Nav Rules.

    As part of the transformational change to teach operators we should be focusing our efforts on Rules, 5 (lookout), 6 (Speed), 7 (Risk of Collision) and 8 (Actions to Avoid Collision). We only emphasize Rules 13 (Overtaking), 14 (Head On), 15 (Crossing), 16 (Give Way) and 17 (Stand On) which are actions that are required after the fact once you determine risk of collision exists.  These rules are in support of Rule 8 as actions to take when risk of collision exists. The key in all of this is to identify risk of collision long before its time to take action and avoid a close quarter's situation. This requires someone paying attention with situational awareness rather than being more involved in the activity. It's a tough job!

    Last, Paddled craft and Navigation Rules. In Rule 3 a vessel is defined as "every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft and sea planes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water". This includes paddle craft. Subpart I of the rules, Conduct of Vessels in Any Condition of Visibility (Rules 5 thru 10) applies to all vessels.  Only in Subpart II and II do we start to single out specific types of vessels. Both Subpart II and III focus on the conduct of vessels that are in sight of one another or not insight. As you will notice paddle craft are not specifically identified. This means that all rules under these subparts that states a "vessel" apply to paddle craft.

    It all begins with recognizing risk of collision and then taking early and decisive steps to prevent it.

    Daniel Shipman
    13th District Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
    USCG D13 Seattle

  • 14.  RE: Other reasons for car accidents other than 'driver error.'

    Posted 12-21-2021 01:44 PM
    As always, Dan is right on point!  The NavRules are mostly beyond many rec boaters' knowledge base...I'm not at all sure what the solutions are either.   I think that Human Factors (HFACS) likely play a much bigger part in mishaps than perhaps we give them credit (or blame) for.  Certainly, engineering technology helps keep us safe but we've seen how it can easily be defeated by a 'determined' human characteristic we know as "Risk Management".  In the Injury Prevention world, we recognize that Risk Perception (RP) and Risk Tolerance (RT) typically 'balance' each other out.  In other words, when a persons' Risk Homeostasis (RH) level is exceeded, that person normally tries to mitigate the risk (puts on a life jacket when weather picks up), and when the weather calms down (below RH), they take it off.  To successfully change someone's RH level, learning more about the actual risks may lower their RT and raise their RP...and effectively change their RH level.  The end result are boaters who are better educated about risk so they make better decisions.  Inexperienced boaters are a large part of the overall risk picture so certainly, they should be included in the solutions.

    Michael Folkerts
    17th District Recreational Boating Specialist
    US Coast Guard