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Boating safety: You might mandate it. Is it worth it?

When you get into a motor vehicle and take to the road, the law requires everyone on board to be properly restrained. There are a few exceptions, but it is the rule for the vast majority of situations. The reason for the mandate in California is the recognition that restraint systems save lives.

The same does not apply to safety devices for vehicles on the water. Every state except a couple requires life jackets be worn by children. In some states the age cutoff for the requirement is six years old. In others it might be 12. But now, some safety experts wonder whether it doesn't make sense to mandate that children up to the age of 17 wear life vests on the water.

The experts claim to have statistics and research on their side of the argument. They note that government data indicate that drowning due to boating accidents is the second leading cause of injury-related death for Children 14 and younger. Motor vehicle accidents are number one. 

The federal rules regarding water safety require that every boat have enough life jackets on board for all passengers. Wearing them is optional. State law may mandate otherwise, however. And it's on that point that safety experts would like to see some change.

One safety study published recently in the journal Injury Prevention found that the rate of life-jacket use nationally has averaged only about 22 percent since the late 1990s. That's even with strong awareness and education efforts. But where life jacket use is mandated, the rate jumps up to 80 percent or better.

The researchers say that suggests education without mandates isn't sufficient. But some opponents say expanding the age range of mandatory life-vest use in states that have such laws isn't needed.

Regardless of where one stands on this issue, one thing that is beyond dispute is that if negligence or carelessness results in an accident that leaves someone injured or killed, victims and their families have a right to seek compensation. Contacting an attorney is the first step in such a process.

Source: Reuters, "Life-Jacket Laws Spur Use, Could Prevent Drownings," Ronnie Cohen, Feb. 20, 2014

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