Press Editorial

June 7, 2011

By Staff

Life jacket rule could create confusion

The King County Council is considering an ordinance to require anyone who swims, floats or boats on major rivers this summer to wear a life jacket. Violators could be fined $86.

The law would expire Oct. 31. The short-term requirement is in response to the swift, icy snow melt from mountains filling rivers later than usual this year, creating a heightened risk to public safety.

The ordinance is a bit over the top for citizens who don’t like government telling adults how to be safe. The idea, proposed last week, has been quick to garner comments from those opposed to “nanny” laws, and those who believe the county is seeking a new revenue source.

If anything, this short-term law will likely cost taxpayers. Signage at entry points along the Snoqualmie, Tolt, Cedar, Green, White, Raging and Skykomish rivers would be installed immediately to educate the public, and those without life jackets would get a warning for a first violation. This all takes time and money in advance of any fine collections being made — but so does search and recovery of drowned bodies.

Public education about water safety will make it worthwhile even if no fines are ever collected. State law already requires children younger than 12 to wear life vests, and adults to have one onboard vessels that are less than 19 feet long, including the rafts, canoes and kayaks often used on rivers. Yet, reports of river floaters without life vests vary from 60 to 90 percent.

We’d prefer King County adopt a stronger education program about the use of life jackets rather than send a mixed message this year only. We would hate for citizens to think life vests are only necessary this summer.

If there is money to be spent on public safety, expand the loaner life jacket program now in place at some King County park beaches. And encourage the state law to add a permanent requirement for life jackets on swimmers younger than 12 on the major rivers.

Ultimately, it’s up to adults to set a good example by being responsible for themselves and their families. Only then will government leaders stop worrying about the public and its safety by implementing laws.

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