‘Ducks’ could be back on road in 30 days; state files formal safety complaint

SEATTLE -- The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has filed a formal safety complaint against 'Ride the Ducks' of Seattle in the wake of last week's deadly accident that killed five international students.

The state confirms that some of the amphibious vehicles could be back on the road in a matter of weeks.

Both state and federal law require the duck boat vehicles to be free of any defects that could result in an accident.

Two years ago, Ride the Ducks International alerted the local company about a critical repair but the duck boat vehicle that crashed into a charter tour bus on the Aurora Bridge last Thursday did not have the fix.

“I’m surprised the operator would allow these vehicles on the road,” said Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata.

Witnesses to the accident saw the duck lose control seconds before the crash with a charter bus. Federal investigators said it appears the front axle of the duck sheered off but they don’t yet know if that’s the cause of the crash.

Ride the Ducks International sounded the alarm in 2013, warning that all duck boats, including Seattle’s, needed to shore up its front axles. But the National Transportation Safety Board said that fix never happened on the duck boat that collided with the bus.

The complaint filed Tuesday by the UTC claims that Ride the Ducks Seattle operated at least one of its vehicles in an unsafe manner.

Investigators aren’t certain if Ride the Ducks Seattle ever got the 2013 notice.

Regardless, Licata said ignorance of the law is no excuse.

“The responsibility of the company is to be aware if they’re committing any violations of the state or federal law,” he said. “It’s not the obligation of the media, citizens, or even the government.”

The ducks parent company, RDI, wasn’t required to notify state or federal officials about that service bulletin. State officials contend the repair work could have been critical to public safety.

“We all own passenger cars; you’ve all gotten safety recalls on your vehicles,” said David Pratt, assistant director of Transportation Safety. “Sometimes they’re serious sometimes they’re not, but you need to look at them no matter what.”

Licata also asked the state to consider banning the ducks from driving on the Aurora Bridge, if it’s allowed to resume tours.

“I was just looking at diagrams this morning and some of them are as narrow as 9 feet,” he said of the lanes. “The ducks are somewhere over 8 feet so the margin will be 6-10 inches on either (side) ... that’s not very much room.”

The duck boats that were not part of the 2013 service bulletin could be back on the roads if they pass inspection.

The state’s investigation could be finished in two months. Depending on what it finds, officials have the authority to levy fines against the business or shut it down completely.