A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review of a fatal boat crash has highlighted the role that distraction caused by laptop and cellphone use played in the accident.

The 2010 crash between a tour boat and a barge being pushed by a tugboat killed 2 students and tipped 35 other people into a busy shipping channel in Philadelphia.

In 2-3 hours at the wheel of the tug, the pilot made and received 21 cellphone calls and also surfed the Internet on a company laptop while being in sole charge of the boat, investigators said.

The pilot also reportedly moved from an upper to a lower wheelhouse on the tug to do so, obscuring his ability to see the stalled 33-foot duck boat. Investigators believe the lower wheelhouse offered him more privacy and less noise as he talked on the phone and did research on a company laptop – both violations of company policy.

The deckhand on the stalled duck boat was texting as well. He sent several messages after dropping anchor, including one a minute before the barge hit.

Whilst both companies involved had safety policies, NTSB board members noted  the difference between creating safety policies and enforcing them, one member remarking that “This is a culture where he was comfortable with it [cellphone use while working]… because he’d done it before”.

In recent years, the NTSB has investigated accidents in which a tug pilot, while texting, ground his vessel in the Baltic Sea, and another in which Northwest Airline pilots used laptops in the cockpit to discuss scheduling arrangement, ignoring communication with the tower for more than an hour as they flew 150 miles past their destination.

Cases like this demonstrate that a cellphone or computer use policy on its own is not sufficient. Policies need to be enforced to be of any practical use.

Blank-IT helps your business enforce policies covering computer use in vehicles of all types, by disabling or limiting computer functionality when movement is detected. Find out more today at Blank-IT – or contact us on 08 9486 7122 (if calling from outside Australia: +61 8 9486 7122).