The summer of 2011 marked a sharp increase in drownings in Lake Lanier. Mark Alexander, a personal injury attorney with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart Melvin & Frost, has dealt with numerous unfortunate cases involving serious accidents, injuries, and death.
Question: Public safety officials are at a loss to explain the unusually large number of drownings this year in Lake Lanier. But do you have some thoughts as to whether the lake is a more dangerous place to swim than a swimming pool?
Mark: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, at least 43 percent of all recreational water drownings occur in natural settings such as a lake or river. Another 9 percent of drownings occur in boating incidents. This is almost three times the number of drownings that take place in swimming pools.
These drowning statistics also vary according to age. Children aged 1 to 4 years are more likely to drown in home swimming pools. Whereas most drownings of those 15 years and older occur in lakes, rivers, or the ocean. In fact, the percentage of drownings in natural water settings increases with age.
There are many theories and much debate as to whether lake swimming is truly more dangerous than a pool. But it’s obvious that a lake has a greater potential for drowning risks simply because of poorer visibility in open, natural waters – particularly in Lake Lanier where the water is muddier from our red clay banks and bottom.
While it’s just as easy to drown in a swimming pool, a lake has many more unseen dangers such as underwater stumps or debris that can cause problems. For example, a diver hitting their head in shallow water or a swimmer becomes entangled in fishing line. The lake bottom also tends to be unlevel with sudden, unexpected drop-offs.
Question: Does that mean we’re better off avoiding the lake for a swim?
Mark: Whether you swim in a pool or a lake doesn’t really matter if you fail to follow proper safety and plain old common sense. You can drown anywhere – even in a bathtub if you’re not careful.
Here are some basic tips to help avoid a drowning tragedy – and still have fun:
- Formal swimming lessons for your children. Research is clear on this -- Swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among young children.
Adult supervision. Keep a watchful eye over your kids, especially if they are swimming in an unsupervised area without a lifeguard. Don’t rely on flotation toys such as water wings or rafts to keep your children safe. And if your child has not had swim lessons or is still learning to swim, you should definitely be in the water with them.