High-Profile Accidents Seen As Call For Renewed Focus On Safety

Several recent high-profile media reports are serving as a reminder that PWC dealers need to be increasingly proactive when it comes to stressing rider safety.

Following years of negative publicity surrounding issues such as the loss of steering control without thrust or manufacturer’s escalating horsepower wars, recent times have seen a more positive flow of news as solutions, like off-throttle steering enhancements, entered into the mix and manufacturers entered into a handshake agreement to cap top speeds. All that positive momentum may be threatened, however, by a series of recent high-profile accidents.

As promptly reported by numerous media outlets, a PWC-related accident recently left Kyle Glover, the 11-year-old stepson of pop singer Usher, brain dead. Glover’s accident was followed only days earlier by the death of retired astronaut Alan Poindexter, a one-time pilot of the space shuttle Atlantis. In May 2011, pop singer Sean Kingston sustained life-threatening injuries after colliding with a bridge support in Miami Beach.

Ron Sarver, deputy director for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), was quoted in a Fox News report as calling the news something of “a perfect storm.”

“There’s been a number of accidents together here,” noted Sarver, “so we have a lot of people saying, ‘What’s happening?’”

While the higher profile of the recent victims has obviously led to increased coverage, a quick look at nationwide statistics reveal that as of mid-July, 238 PWC accidents have been reported, resulting in 212 injuries and 16 deaths. In 2011, 44 people were killed on PWC, a slight increase from the previous year.

Those very same statistics also reveal the most-likely cause. In an extraordinarily high percentage of accidents, the fault can be traced not to the PWC, but to the careless driving of an operator. Though tragic as these accidents may be, according to the reports, Glover was actually floating in an inner tube and was struck by a family friend who was driving the PWC. In the Poindexter case, the former astronaut was riding with his 22-year-old son on one craft when a 26-year-old son on a different vehicle crashed into him. Kingston was at the helm with a passenger when he crashed into the bridge in Miami.

One obvious answer to the problem is increased boater education. Though mandatory education has always been perceived as a touchy subject, PWC manufacturers have in fact long stood at the forefront as proponents of requiring PWC operators to learn safe boating practices.

“The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA), which represents personal watercraft manufacturers, stands by a long history of advocating for mandatory boater education and safe boating practices for those riding the more than 1.29 million jet-propelled watercrafts registered across the nation,” reads the official statement. “PWCs are like all boats and require a certain level of expertise for safe operation. PWIA urges states to adopt laws including minimum operator age of 16, mandatory education, mandatory life jacket wear and other safety practices. As with any sport, if safety is not a priority, then accidents can happen.”

While boater education courses are an obvious suggestion to consumers, dealers may also wish to emphasize the one simple concept that could have prevented almost all of this summer’s high-profile accidents — basic operational awareness while on the water. That includes staying a minimum of 100 feet from other PWC operators, boats, swimmers and structures to avoid collisions, looking over your shoulder before making a turn so that you’re aware of traffic that may be overtaking from behind, and avoiding that temptation to treat a PWC as a toy. After all, there’s a certain level of responsibility that comes with operating a motor vehicle, whether it be on land or water.

For information on free boating safety courses, contact Boat U.S. (www.boatus.com) or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (www.cgaux.org).  

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