Summer safety, please

Posted on June 15, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The good ol’ summertime in the Natural State arrives dressed in the beauty of flowers, with fragrant breezes taming the sun’s still-soft warmth. It’s a season of saturated color teeming with vitality: verdant lawns and gardens, cerulean skies and waters. The inviting outdoors beckons, and we oblige en masse.

But like shadows on a bright day, dark dangers accompany sunny summer—the especially tragic kind that suddenly and unexpectedly transform delight into despair.

This past Wednesday was a national day of awareness geared to prevent one such tragedy. Vehicular Heat Stroke Prevention Day stresses that cars become suffocating chambers in warmer months for young children and pets.

The facts are sobering: It takes just minutes for the greenhouse effect to raise the temperature in cars to 125 degrees (cracked windows don’t help, either). Biologically, children’s bodies overheat as much as five times faster than an adult’s. That deadly combination has claimed the life of 700 children in the last two decades. More than half the time, a child who dies from vehicular heat stroke was accidentally left in the car. Most of the victims are under age 3.

This week’s horror stories include two deaths (in New York state and Baton Rouge) and a scare, in which an 8-month-old baby was rescued by emergency responders in Florida. Florida is second in the nation in hot car deaths, and fire-rescue authorities in Naples say such rescues are a monthly occurrence.

The risk is greater in all Southern states with high humidity, and almost always preventable.

Safety checklist ideas include monitoring children’s schedules more closely, putting something important (wallet, ID badge, etc.) in the back seat with a child’s carseat, and getting in the habit of always opening the back door when exiting your vehicle to see if anyone’s left inside.

Thirty percent of vehicular heat-stroke victims got into a car on their own, so keep parked cars locked if you have children or grandchildren around.

Memorial Day unofficially kicked off lake season, and our breathtaking lakescape vistas can double as life-threatening venues. The tragic death of two teenagers on a Bull Shoals bluff is a heart-rending reminder that perils abound in nature, and accidents are by definition unforeseen events.

We are a nation of 100 million recreational swimmers, and people die in unintentional drownings at the rate of 10 per day in the U.S., and one in five victims is under age 14. Nearly 60 percent of adult drownings occur in natural water settings, and nearly three-quarters of boating-related deaths are the result of drownings (88 percent of victims weren’t wearing a life jacket).

Alcohol, of course, is all too often a factor and designated drivers are as essential for boating as for driving.

For young children, drowning risks are highest around swimming pools. Those wonderful backyard oases can and do provide months of enjoyment and family fellowship. But a mere moment’s lapse in safety measures can create a lifetime of remorse.

Swimming lessons are an absolute must for anyone wanting to spend time around water. In addition, swimming pools must be properly fenced, and with young children door or pool alarms can immediately notify parents of a breach in the pool area.

If you have a pool, have and enforce safety rules—including a few unbreakable “never” ones, like small children can never be left unsupervised, not even for an instant.

Diving injuries occur wherever there is water, and often result in permanent brain or back damage that, if not fatal, leave the victim paralyzed. Education plays a key role in diving safety, because even those who get swimming lessons don’t always get diving lessons. Plus, swimmers often break diving safety rules without being seriously injured, which dulls the risk in other people’s minds.

Oftentimes, young children are taught to dive in relatively shallow water, but not formally instructed as they age that they must only dive in deeper water.

The definition of “shallow” is frequently misperceived as well. Many consider shallow water to be three or four feet or less. But aquatic safety experts define five feet of water as shallow, and the risk of spinal-cord injury at that depth to divers of any age is extremely high.

Summertime is also drive time, and its long, free-spirited days that languish till nearly 9 o’clock mean extra miles of cruising—and extra distractions with sunroofs open or tops down and added temptation for texts and selfies.

Car accidents are literally blink-of-an-eye occurrences with eternal consequences. Young, inexperienced drivers feel invincible and immune (that won’t happen to me), so adults must be the grown-ups who demand safety—seat belts, no texting, no speeding, no alcohol—or take the keys away.

It’s so much better to be the “mean parent” and increase your children’s safety factor than to fathom enduring the unthinkable alternative.

My heart aches every time I read a news story in which the joys of summertime are forever tarnished by a seasonal tragedy, and I solemnly count my blessings, but at the same time tremble at the statistical risk.

Please, embrace this summer with exuberance, but also with safety.

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