Warm weather, high gas prices lead to record drowning deaths
Written by Waterloo Courier   
Tuesday, 13 September 2005 17:29
A record number of drowning deaths this year have been blamed on soaring gas prices and warmer-than-average weather, according to Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins.

People are vacationing closer to home because of high gas prices and it has also been exceptionally warm, leading to more people on the water, Baskins said.

"Unfortunately when people go out to recreate, safety is the last thing on their minds," Baskins said. "They are so wrapped up in having fun, a lot of times basic safety precautions slip their mind."

As of Tuesday, 28 people had drowned in Iowa this year -- more than double the number of drowning deaths last year and a state record. In 2004, there were 11 drowning deaths and in 2003, there were 10.

The first drowning death occurred on March 23. In June, there were six deaths and in July, there were seven.

Though many of the high-profile drowning deaths this summer have been alcohol-related, Baskins said, they make up a small percentage of the overall number.

"Alcohol can be a factor, and it has been a factor in a few of the accidents. But it hasn't always. Sometimes people are just being careless. In at least one situation, some gentlemen went out in a boat that wasn't seaworthy," he said.

In most instances, poor swimming ability was listed as the cause of death.

The DNR has started an awareness campaign designed to decrease drinking on the water and careless behavior, according to DNR enforcement officer Rod Slings.

People are prohibited from operating a boat if they have a blood alcohol content that exceeds 0.10 percent, while motorists are prohibited from driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.08 percent or more.

Record drowning deaths also have been reported in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spokesman Tim Smalley.

"Actually, since the weather has calmed down, the number of deaths have calmed down as well," Smalley said.

In Minnesota, there have been 35 non-boating drowning deaths this year compared to 24 last year. There have been 20 drownings associated with boating this year compared to 13 last year. A handful of those deaths have been Iowa residents.

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