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Last Modified: January 4, 2023

6 Causes of Accidental Drowning

Published on February 26, 2013 • Last updated January 4, 2023 by Ken Christensen
Topics: Pool Drowning Accidents

Swimming hole with waterfallAccidental drowning is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States, taking 390 lives and leading to 5,200 emergency room trips each year.  These accidents may take place on outings or individual excursions, in fair weather or foul, in large bodies of water or minuscule puddles. Those that do not result in death may cause lasting brain damage. Others may leave the near-victim with a terror of water. As banal as it may seem to someone who those who have not experienced a close call of their own, water can be perilous under certain circumstances.

While no one is exempt from all possibility of an accidental drowning, there are factors that can contribute dramatically to its likelihood. To learn which circumstances can lead to drowning (and which behaviors should therefore be avoided), read on:

1. Weak Swimming Ability

It is estimated that between 30%-50% of U.S. citizens do not know how to swim. Young children who lack this skill are at a particular disadvantage—20% of accidental drowning victims are children below the age of 15. While not all tragedies are preventable, many can be prevented with a little knowledge. Often, even rudimentary swimming skills can equip children with the confidence they need to comport themselves sensibly in the water and stay afloat at the very least.

2. Failure to Follow Safety Guidelines

It is up to the swimmer to educate themselves on safe swimming, whether by reading poolside rules or by researching the local watering hole. Only the swimmer can determine whether they are too tired to swim or have eaten too recently.  It is likewise up to them (or to their guardians, as the case may be) to know the location of emergency equipment and familiarize themselves with the depth of different areas of the pool.  Swimmers violate the rules posted in swimming areas at their own risk:  Running, horseplay, and otherwise behaving recklessly in the vicinity of a pool not only increases the chances of injury in general, but also the chances that whatever mishap occurs will be more serious than it would in another context.

3. Alcohol

Most activities do not pair well with alcohol:  an excess may scatter the brains, impair judgment and coordination, and make your attempts at karaoke blackmailable.  However, these consequences pale in comparison to the possible repercussions of spiking your water-based activity; namely, it can increase your chance of a fatal accidental drowning by 10-30%.

4. Seizure Disorders

Individuals who suffer from petite mal/absence seizures are advised never to go swimming or even take baths unsupervised, as a temporary loss of consciousness and subsequent drift underwater could easily result in accidental drowning.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite drowning as the leading cause of accidental death for individuals with seizure disorders and the bathtub as the most common site of drowning. A person who is prone to blacking out should never be left in or near water without a focused chaperone to check up on their status frequently.

5. Inadequate Supervision

People suffering from seizure disorders aren’t the only people who require supervision:  many public swimming areas prohibit swimming when there is no lifeguard on duty, as a potential drowning can often be detected only at close range.  A person who is drowning cannot call for help and may lack the presence of mind to make coherent signals, even when a lifeguard is present.  In fact, even the presence of a lifeguard or other adult does not guarantee the swimmer’s safety:  in 9 out of 10 accidental drowning incidents, there is someone on duty.  Drowning is quiet, and it is quick.  It is not enough just to be present in the area—scrupulous attention is required.

 It isn’t only public areas that pose risks:  improperly enclosed private pools or even smaller water containers are dangerous.  Young children can drown in as little as an inch of water.  To prevent accidental drownings of this sort, your pool should be fenced in by barriers “at least 4-feet high with gates that are self-closing, selflatching [sic] and open outward, and away from the pool.”

6. Inclement Weather/Conditions

Natural bodies of water are particularly susceptible to change with the weather.  There is much beneath the surface of a lake, sea, etc. that the human mind cannot account for, be they rogue currents or some other unseen hazard.  “Storms, heavy rains and flooding can change the water depth and cause strong currents” for which the fair-weather swimmer is unprepared.  Churning debris stirred up from beneath can also contribute to the dangers associated with poor weather conditions.  Ergo, swimming should be avoided in tempestuous water.

In addition, the National Weather Service discourages traveling through flash floods.  Flood warnings are to be heeded by removal to higher ground away from rivers or washes.  When approaching moving water, even in a car, it is better to turn around than to underestimate the strength of the current.

As the listed items would suggest, common sense and a reasonable amount of care should be enough to keep accidental drowning in check.  Alas, reasonable care is not always enough to counteract the effects of someone else’s negligence.  If you are bearing the emotional and financial burdens of an accidental drowning, but cannot seem to put the terrible experience behind you, a competent and compassionate personal injury attorney may be what you need to move the process along so that you can start the process of healing.  To contact a personal injury attorney in the Salt Lake City area for a free diagnostic interview, call Good Guys Injury Law at (801) 506-0800.

Image Courtesy of Kyle Pearce

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