Let’s talk water safety and bike safety in the Keys

Allison Kerr, MPH Director of Community Health Improvement Planning, Public Health Services Manager at Florida Health, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about water safety.

May is National Water Safety Month. Florida ranks the highest in deaths among children ages 1 to 4 due to drowning.

Kerr said, “The Florida Keys especially being surrounded by so much water, it’s more important than ever in our county to ensure that people understand the barriers to preventing drowning. There are actually three layers of protection to preventing drowning, especially because drowning does happen very quickly and quietly.”

While TV shows people flailing and screaming for help, that doesn’t really happen in real life. Most of the time when people drown it happens under water.

Kerr said, “A lot of times you don’t really see anything. It’s very quiet.”

The first layer of protection is supervision.

Kerr said, “You always want to make sure that somebody is always being supervised, especially children and people who don’t know how to swim.”

Water watcher tags are also important.

The supervisor shouldn’t be on the phone or reading or playing games. They need to be diligent in their duties.

Kerr said, “Another barrier is to use fences and self-locking gates. Alarms can also be added to gates to make sure those gates are closed when nobody’s around the swimming pool.”

The third layer of protection is to ensure emergency preparedness.

Kerr said, “Training entails CPR. Those who do not have CPR training, it’s very important that they understand how to as well as any child or adult who doesn’t know how to swim, make sure that they take the necessary steps to learn how to swim.”

Children can learn to swim as young as six months old.

Beach and lake swimming can add more factors when it comes to drowning.

Always swim with a buddy and if you have a weakened immune system stay on land. Also if you see an animal in the water, stay away from it.

Kerr said, “Monroe County has among the highest age adjusted death rates due to unintentional drowning. We actually have a two and a half times higher rate of deaths. We did have one child unfortunately die in 2021, but most of the deaths that we are seeing are in males age 45 to 65 and these are for various reasons.”

The floating devices that are attached to arms of children are some of the worst things a child can wear.

Kerr explained, “It assumes the drowning position, which is the vertical position. It does give a false sense of security. We always try to encourage people who put floatation devices on their child to use type one or type two, which are essentially the type that allows the child to float horizontally.”

For more information on water safety, click here: https://www.floridahealth.gov/

Bike safety is another concern in the Keys.

A lot of people ride bikes to work.

Kerr said, “Key West is actually among the top three places (in the US) to bike to work. We also unfortunately have among the highest rates of bicycle/pedestrian accidents.”

It’s important for people to be safe and be seen. So pedestrians should walk on the left side of the road and bicyclists should ride on the right side of the road.

Kerr said, “We also try to encourage using hand signals so any time you want to turn left or right, use your hand signals. If you’re passing somebody on the sidewalk and you’re on your bicycle, you want to announce that you are passing.”

Say it out loud so the person can hear you.

Bright clothing and reflective clothing is important for both walkers and bike riders.

Kerr added, “It’s also very important that you turn on your bike lights at least 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. The lights have to be powerful enough that they are visible for 500 feet in the front of your bicycle or 600 feet behind your bicycle.”

Eye contact with motorists can help.

Kerr said, “Especially nowadays people tend to be distracted. It’s very important before anyone attempts to go in front of a car to make sure that they make eye contact before proceeding to go in front of them.”

There’s really no excuse to not wear a helmet – especially because they are free from the Department of Health.

Kerr said, “I am actually a regional trainer to fit helmets. It is the law for children under the age of 16 to wear a properly fitted bike helmet when riding a bicycle or when riding in a bike trailer.”

To get a free bike helmet fitting, click here: https://monroe.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/community-health-planning-and-statistics/bike_safety/index.html

E-bikes and scooters are becoming more popular.

Kerr said, “Riding on the street is encouraged except on multi-use youth paths. That essentially means they could ride on the sidewalk on North Roosevelt which is the southbound side, as well as South Roosevelt on the northbound side, as well as Atlantic Avenue on the northbound side. Everywhere else it’s important that people understand that you can ride on the street there, but there are other pieces of information as it pertains to rules.”

The speed limit is 15 mph, especially on the e-bikes and scooters.

Kerr reminded, “Those over the age of 16 still need to consider wearing a bike helmet.”  

Some e-bikes can go up to 30 mph, so the speed limit should be followed.

For more information, click here: https://monroe.floridahealth.gov/index.html