Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and the summer is officially underway. That is mostly a good thing, but as The Oregonian reminded us last week, it is also a moment to give some careful thought to safety. The holiday weekend, the paper noted, is “also the start of the season for cold water drownings in the region’s alluring, but often deadly, natural waterways.”
An investigation by the paper found that since 2006 “area lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean were the site of 212 drownings. The large majority – 180 – were men or boys; the remaining 15 percent, a total of 32, were women or girls.” The paper goes on to offer examples of incidents that started as routine outings but quickly turned into tragedies. It continues: “This kind of hazard abounds in natural waterways. One moment you’re in water up to your thighs, the next step takes you to water 10 feet deep.”
The solutions are very simple: public awareness and easier access to safety equipment. The Oregonian notes several organizations and initiatives that are working “to reduce the number of drownings through education and enforcement.” In particular, it quotes first responders reminding people of the importance of life jackets. The article quotes a sheriff’s office official in Clark County saying that “in more than 90 percent of the drownings he’s responded to, a life jacket would have saved the person.” Among the safety initiatives already underway in some parts of the state and expected to continue this season are efforts to make life jackets – usually ones that can be borrowed for free – more easily and widely available at potential trouble sites.
As a Portland-based attorney who represents injured children I am all too aware of the hazards that waterways pose each summer. The good news is that things are slowly changing. The same Clark County official who said life vests would have saved almost every drowning victim he has seen over nearly 20 years also compared the issue to seat belt usage and car accidents. He noted that it took time but attitudes and habits changed with education. With summer here we can only hope that that process of education leading to new awareness moves forward.