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Why summertime is an especially risky season for children

Dave Chugg of Salt Lake City fire department helps Mikayla Bylund ride a bike during a safety fair Friday, May 29, 2015, at the public safety building in Salt Lake City.
Dave Chugg of Salt Lake City fire department helps Mikayla Bylund ride a bike during a safety fair Friday, May 29, 2015, at the public safety building in Salt Lake City.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When I was a toddler, my family went swimming with an organization to which my parents and many of their friends belonged. And one of mom’s pals kept encouraging my mom to let her watch me in the pool for a little while.

“We’ll just splash around a bit and play. Go enjoy yourself for a few minutes,” she said again and again until my mom acquiesced and handed me over.

Just a few minutes later, I was floating at the bottom of the pool. I don’t remember being panicked or realizing that I was drowning. I just remember this giant crack in the painted cement pool floor. I don’t remember being pulled out, either, although I have some recollection (possibly from hearing the story numerous times as I was growing up) of people gathered around me and of someone pounding on me until I coughed up water and opened my eyes.

I was fine. But the results could have been very different.

Later, the woman told my mom she’d set me on the side of the pool and just looked away for a minute. She wasn’t used to watching kids and had forgotten how vulnerable they were. She lost track of what she was doing.

It was a break in her routine.

And that’s part of what makes summer wonderful. It’s a chance to break up the routine — to swim farther (or at all, for some people), to take long road trips or faraway journeys, to hike that mountain that’s been beckoning for months or to take the boat out on the lake.

The problem is, we rely more than we think on memory muscle. We have a routine and when it gets shaken up, we often don’t become more vigilant to make up for that fact.

School in our district is ending this week, and I’ve been asking my daughters’ friends what they have planned. One of the boys just got a new car with which he’s obsessed, so he’s planning lots of driving. Others are taking small trips or working or just hanging out with friends.

Since the weather’s warmed up, it’s easy to notice that there are a lot more kids playing in neighborhood parks or in their yards. More kids are riding bikes, often in the road and mostly, by my reckoning, without helmets.

It’s summer. So carefree. What could go wrong in beautiful weather on leisurely days when school isn’t demanding time and attention?

According to the Utah Department of Health, national statistics, Utah chief medical examiner Todd Grey and others, the answer is that a lot can go wrong. My colleague Marjorie Cortez and I have been writing about the various things that kill children, with an eye on safety and how such tragedies can be prevented.

Summertime is an especially risky — and lethal — season for children. And most of the deaths that occur in summer are the preventable variety, untied to illness and disease.

They’re what we typically think of as accidents, although experts in personal injury, health and safety don’t like the word because it sounds like there’s nothing that could have been done about it. “Accident,” one told me, “sounds like a totally unforeseeable lightning strike, not a bike wreck that could have been prevented by following basic road rules and wearing a helmet.”

Unintentional and accidental are not the same thing. Setting a child on the edge of the pool and then getting distracted is not a deliberate attempt to injure the child. But it’s pretty hard to make the case that the result was unforeseeable.

No one goes out in a boat without a life jacket hoping someone will drown. But it sure raises the odds that’s what will happen. Ditto riding motorcycles or bikes without helmets, speeding, inattentive driving, unsecured firearms, prescriptions left within reach of children and more.

Let's play it safe this summer.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco