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Kids, Beaches and Cars: A Deadly Mix

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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.

car and family at the beach
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.

next: One Mom's Nervous Breakdown
20 comments so far | Post a comment now
nutmac September 10, 2010, 3:23 PM

I am conflicted. While keeping a dangerous tradition for the sake of tradition is stupid, taking children to a beach clearly marked for driving is also irresponsible.

In any case, with Terry Jones of Gainesville dominating the news, this September is not a good month to be a resident of Florida.

Renae  September 10, 2010, 6:59 PM

Seriously, the natives don’t think it’s a good idea to ban this tradition, even though it’s caused deaths? for real?
this is dangerous for anyone, not only kids. I don’t think it’s fair for parents to have to worry about their kids getting hit by cars on a freaking beach, there’s enough to worry about on the roads, where cars are actually meant to be.

Rebecca September 10, 2010, 7:16 PM

As someone who has lived on the coast of Florida for years, driving cars on the beach is dangerous and stupid.

If tradition is so important, set aside a certain span of time (whether a certain number of days, time, whatever) when cars are allowed on the beach. The rest of the time they are banned. Actually, I’d be happier if they just set aside a day every now and then for specific “car driving on the beach” events.

It isn’t just children that are in danger from this tradition. Adults have died from this, as well.

I should note, however, that I am often on the side of those who think that parents should keep their kids safe themselves and not depend on others to do so. This really isn’t a situation that is covered by that, imo.

Anonymous September 11, 2010, 1:14 PM

people are so lazy these days they cant even get out of the car to go to the beach. Get out of the car and walk people!

Gail Cooke September 11, 2010, 3:35 PM

While I understand that you’re trying to keep people safe, if you know that there are cars around, maybe you should be taking your kids to a different beach. It’s called personal responsibility and taking care of your own responsibilities (ie: your own children).

XXXX September 11, 2010, 4:10 PM


Rita September 11, 2010, 4:43 PM

I feel bad for the parents, but my family and I have been going to Port Aransas, Texas for years since I was little, and now I take my own family there as well. They allow driving on the sand far away from the water unless you’re parking close to the water, which everyone does when they’re there. There’s several beach park roads that lead to the beach so you don’t have to drive down the actual beach for miles searching for a good spot.

I hope everyone keeps an eye out for their kids when they’re at the beach and not paying attention to a book or something else, unless you have help. I’m lucky to have my parents vacation with us every summer, I feel blessed to have those extra eyes on my children!

Alicia September 12, 2010, 8:02 AM

I won’t be taking my kids to the section of beach that allows driving for awhile - maybe when they are older. There are sections of both beaches that are already restricted to cars. Parents need to go to those beaches instead.

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