Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: This summer has seen the deaths of two 4-year-olds in a seaside Florida town, where local tradition allows cars on the beaches. At New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona, the victim was Aiden Patrick, a preschooler who was buried in his favorite Spider-Man costume after being struck down while running up from the ocean toward his father in July.
Just down the shore, a visiting English child named Ellie Bland
was run over in March. According to a New York Times article
, many locals see the accidents as tragic and regrettable, but not reason enough to change the decades-old tradition of allowing cars on the beach.
It's not as if the situation has ever been safe. This year's two deaths aren't out of the ordinary, really; in the past five years (according to local records), at least 40 accidents have taken place on New Smyrna Beach
. Still, people there and in Daytona Beach
Shores voted this year to express their continued support for beach-driving in the land where NASCAR
was born. (Before they raced on speedways, NASCAR
drivers competed on the packed sand between New Smyrna and Daytona.) And, as per the comments after an article about Aiden's death
, many think it's up to parents to keep kids from getting hit by the cars, which have had free rein on the beaches for nearly 100 years.
I can't agree. Tradition is all well and good, but there's no excuse for one that puts children in such danger. The reaction of some of the people quoted by the Times fits into a couple of categories I find troubling. One is the notion that parents should stop seeking to make the world safer for their kids, because that somehow ruins things for the rest of us. The other is that tradition should trump common sense.
We see both of these ideas at work when someone says, "I rode in cars without seatbelts when I was a kid, and I'm just fine!" What such geniuses never point out, of course, is that those who die in car crashes (still the leading cause of death for young kids) don't exactly have the opportunity to speak their piece. Those of us who survived a somewhat less-safe childhood than what today's kids enjoy can look back at our childhoods' virtues. Those who died young because of someone else's beloved "tradition" (whether it was riding unrestrained or just happening to use a beach that's also a speedway) aren't around to plead the other side.
I'm not saying that we can or even should eliminate every danger. (I'm actually a bit of a proponent of the "free-range" kid idea, provided the danger is balanced with the opportunity to learn valuable skills, like navigating the world without a hovering mama.) But some dangers don't serve any good purpose, and driving on the beach is one of them.
I hope the people of these lovely oceanside towns in Florida
don't let any more children die in the service of their idea of tradition.