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State regulators propose ‘unsatisfactory’ safety rating for Ride the Ducks after intense investigation

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SEATTLE -- A new report from the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission details how state investigators determined Ride the Ducks Seattle knew about front axle problems with some of their boats before the deadly crash on the Aurora Bridge.

The crash killed five international students after the front axle sheered off one of the tour boats. Despite the accident, and hundreds of safety violations, some of the duck boats could soon be back on the road.

Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said the front axle of duck boat No. 6 sheered off, sending it on a collision course with a charter bus full of international students.

The report said state inspectors determined Ride the Ducks Seattle knew about a 2013 service bulletin that recommended some of its vehicles, including No. 6, should have their front axles shored up.

Inspectors said the boats never got that critical fix. Instead, Ride the Ducks Seattle performed daily visual inspections. The report also claimed that RTD Seattle mechanics could not see obvious problems, so crews took no further action in relation to the service bulletin.

After months of work, state inspectors also discovered 442 violations, including failure to make sure drivers had the required commercial driver license. In one case, a tour boat operated 11 separate times without the proper license.

The report also said the company failed to do frequent drug testing on its drivers.

The safety violations led state regulators to propose an unsatisfactory safety rating for the tour company. Ride the Ducks Seattle will have to address the safety concerns before it can get its vehicles back on the road.

There are roughly 20 boats in the company’s fleet; about half are subject to the 2013 bulletin that recommends an axle fix. The company has hired a specialist to evaluate the axles and recommend repairs as needed, according to the state report.

The remaining fleet has already passed Federal Commercial Vehicle Safety inspections and could resume tours if the company can repair its unsatisfactory rating.

Ride the Ducks has until Jan. 29 to improve it’s safety rating and correct a number of violations. If it cannot do so, state regulators have the authority to shut down the company for good.

Ride the Ducks Seattle could also still face thousands of dollars in fines by state regulators.

The NTSB isn’t expected to release its final report into the deadly crash until September.

The owner of Ride the Ducks Seattle, Brian Tracey, released a statement to Q13 Fox News on Tuesday evening.

“We appreciate the UTC’s exhaustive work in completing the report.

“During the course of the three-month investigation, we anticipated the UTC would find minor issues from our nearly 20 years of operations. While the total number of issues they have identified appears large, it is important to note that the vast majority of the findings deal with recordkeeping issues – many of which we have already corrected.

“The report cited just one mechanical issue with the type of vehicle we plan to use when we restart operation – a cracked tie rod end grease boot on just a single vehicle. When the UTC brought this problem to our attention, we completed all the repairs that day.

“The vast majority of the remaining UTC findings involved bookkeeping issues. For example, of the 442 violations, 51 were for our failure to record employees’ dates of birth on their employment applications. In fact, the UTC describes 304 of the violations as ‘non-acute/non-critical’ recordkeeping violations.

“When we meet with the UTC on December 21, we will demonstrate our plans to meet all of their conditions within the timeframe they’ve set.”