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Tourism Commission

No investigation contemplated of recent accident
Happy with carriage size and structure
Warwick Jones

We attended the Tourism Commission meeting tonight to see what it had to say about the recent accident where a horse carriage overturned on Meeting Street? The Commission oversees the industry and we thought there may be concern.

Seemingly little concern
Actually there seemed little concern. The matter was not formally on the agenda though it was possible that a member of the Commission may have raised the subject under New Business. But the issue was addressed, sort of, after questions were raised by Pat Jones (the writer’s wife) She asked for a comment by the Commission. She reminded the Commission that she and others had attended the meetings of the Carriage Horse Sub-Committee, charged by the City to formulate an ordinance governing carriage horses. She drew attention to the fact that carriages were made locally and to the design of the carriage companies. The City had no specifications beyond size. She also drew attention to the fact that the carriages allow the limbs of passengers to protrude over the sides. This presented a risk in the event of overturning. She could have added more. But those on the Commission would have known that she was really saying - the carriages are unsafe, ill designed, carry too many passengers, and the burden was intolerable on the horse in the very hot weather.

Carriages made locally
The Chair, Cathy Forrester asked if any Commissioner had a comment, and then passed on to Mr. Tom, Doyle who was sitting in the audience. Mr. Doyle is the principal of Palmetto Carriage Company. He confirmed that the large carriages were made locally and essentially to the specification of the carriage companies. But the smaller carriages were bought from a manufacturer who undertook his own design. (It is our opinion that the “large” carriages carry more than 90% of all tourists carried by the carriage companies.).

Carriage companies “pretty responsible”
He said that the accident was rare and since the last accident, in 2006, some 40,000 carriage rides have been given by operators. This record showed that the carriage companies were “pretty responsible”. Another spokesman for the Carriage companies said that there were no “serious injuries” in the last accident and that all the people were taken care of.

Fractured collar bone, pelvis and ribs
A representative of the company that sustained the accident also commented that the accident occurred because of a loose bridle. It slipped on the horse’s head and down to its neck. The pressure applied by the driver to the bridle after it slipped caused the horse to bolt. The back wheel of the carriage hit the curb and caused the wheel to collapse, spilling the human contents of the carriage on to the ground. One passenger suffered a fractured collar bone, another a fracture of the pelvis, and another, 2 fractured ribs. The company paid all the air fares and expenses of the injured. The spokesman also opined that having an enclosed carriage would have done little to prevent the injuries sustained. The “size of the carriage made no difference, with the horse running fast, there was “nothing one could do”.

Commission will not investigate the accident
It was clear that the Commission was not planning an investigation and indeed the Chairman asked if members wanted to take the matter further. No hands were raised. But one member of the Commission said that tourists had a choice, they did not have to take a carriage ride. The implication was that they agreed to take the risk inherent in the ride. But is that really an excuse? Most of us that use transport – taxis, buses, aircraft – assume there is an Authority out there that supervises the industry and defines acceptable standards. We suspect that if there is a major accident and a death occurs in a carriage incident, the plea that “the customer took the risk” will not make it in court.

More concern over tree root hazards than carriage tours
Commissioner Mendelsohn spoke strongly in favor of the carriage industry and said accidents can happen in any mode of transport. The recent accident-related injuries were not related to the construction of the carriage, she said. We don’t know on what the Commissioner based her strong opinion. To us it seemed reflect indifference about the safety of passengers. We had to bite our tongue when later in the meeting she asked that the City do something about the tree roots in Whitepoint Gardens. The City needs to cover them because they could cause an accident, she said. People may trip. How many people have broken collar bones or ribs in Whitepoint Gardens?

Nothing likely to change
So nothing seems likely to change because of a Tourism Commission directive. Maybe Charleston will be lucky and no accidents occur in future. But as the pictures show,View image View image limbs protrude from carriages during tours. And the incidence of two accidents in 2 years is still high despite the comments of the operators. If a carriage is overturned and limbs are protruding, we could be looking at severed limbs and possibly death. And really, horses and cars are not compatible! With the density of the latter increasing on the peninsula, it seems certain that sometime in the future another horse will be “spooked”. And what will be the consequences?

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