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In our opinion: Prepare for outdoors

Published: Monday, May 20 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

ATV riders have fun at Sand Hallow State Park in Hurricane, Utah.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News

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The warm-weather recreation season is beginning, and Utah families will be wise to take note that according to public health agencies, those most vulnerable to death and injury from recreation-related accidents are children under age 15.

Already this month, a child was killed in an ATV accident and a teenager severely injured in a hiking fall. The National Weather Service has issued its annual warning about high stream flows from mountain snowmelt, which makes waterways treacherous for young children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 percent of all drowning deaths that occur in the outdoors involve children under age 15. Drowning is the leading cause of death by injury for children under age 4. Children also account for 40 percent of all visits to emergency rooms for injuries sustained during sports and recreational activities. The rate of injury is most pronounced during warm weather months.

Health and public safety agencies issue standard advisories every year to remind people to take care while enjoying Utah's bounty of recreation opportunities, but every year there are reports of injury and death due to accidents that may have been prevented.

A large number of such cases occur when children, as they are wont to do, wander away from the watchful eyes of their parents or guardians. Simple common sense dictates that kids should be kept under close watch in the outdoors, but health agencies have documented that formal reminders to put safety concerns top of mind actually result in a lower rate of accidents.

In that vein, public agencies and private safety organizations regularly disclose a list of preventative measures that statistics show, when taken, do indeed save lives. Chief among them is that kids always should wear helmets while biking or riding on ATVs, that they should never be allowed to swim alone, or while fatigued, and that they should stay in groups while on hiking trails. Statistics also show that playground accident rates are reduced when there is constant adult supervision.

It is advice that begs the obvious, but there are news reports every spring of children lost, hurt or killed when basic safety practices aren't observed.

The season also brings steady work to search-and-rescue crews dispatched to help those who lose their way or simply get in over their heads while hiking or climbing in the rugged high country. Some of those cases involve people who have chosen to take risks or who engage in what could be regarded as daredevil activity. But many are the result of simple carelessness or lack of preparation.

Taking proper precautions on behalf of children in the outdoors is a fundamental responsibility of adults. Doing so will limit the number of incidents every year in which recreational outings are marred by injuries to kids that statistics show are easily preventable.

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