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Summer Risks vs. Realities

The news media are so full of warnings about potential summer health hazards that you may wonder, as the season wears on, how anyone ever comes through unscathed.
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Blood and Asphalt continued...

Perhaps, he speculates, Americans have developed such a fatalistic attitude about car crashes that we've come to accept them as kind of natural phenomenon. At the National Safety Council, "we fundamentally don't accept that," he says.

If you're really concerned about living to see September, wear a seatbelt, drive defensively, and don't drive while drunk or drowsy.

Bicycling can be another perilous summertime activity. "About 85% of all bicycling fatalities are head injuries," Ulczycki says. So when you ride, it's best to wear a helmet, no matter how dorky it makes you feel.

"It's a cultural issue about wearing a helmet. I grew up in the '60s, and we didn't wear helmets when we were kids," Ulczycki says. It may be hard to make yourself put on a helmet when you've been riding for decades without one, but he says, "one fall and you won't have to worry about making that choice again."

Water Hazards

As the weather heats up, pools open and people take to lakes and the ocean in droves, to swim, boat -- and sometimes drown. Every year, at least 3,000 people drown in the U.S., making it the next most serious summertime risk, behind traffic accidents.

Some drown when they fall victim to strong rip currents or undertows. Others drown when they're stricken by a sudden health emergency, be it a heart attack or just a bad cramp, while out swimming alone. Still others foolishly dive into unfamiliar waters, hit a submerged rock or a shallow bottom, and drown when they're knocked unconscious or break their necks.

"If you don't know what's down there, don't dive into it," Ulczycki says; and for safety's sake, also swim with a buddy.

Kids aged 4 and younger drown more often in swimming pools than in natural bodies of water, and drowning is the second leading accidental killer for this age group. According the CDC, most kids who drown in swimming pools at home had been out of their parents' sight for less than five minutes.

Boating also puts you at risk for drowning and other harm. The U.S. Coast Guard recorded more than 5,700 boating accidents in 2002, causing 4,062 injuries and 750 deaths. Drowning is the cause of death in most fatal boating accidents for all types of boats, excluding "personal watercraft," such as Jet Skis. The Coast Guard data also show that while more fatal accidents happen in the summer months, because more boaters are on the water, the percentage of deadly accidents is higher in colder months, particularly February, October, and November, when hypothermia quickly takes hold of people who go overboard.

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