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Driving on Daytona Beach: a dangerous policy

Drivers are allowed on parts of Daytona Beach, where a girl was killed over the weekend.

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Drivers are allowed on parts of Daytona Beach, where a girl was killed over the weekend.

This past Saturday a 4-year-old English girl was run over and killed at Daytona Beach. It has happened before and inevitably will again.

The driver, a 66-year-old woman from Georgia, apparently panicked and accelerated after almost running over the little girl just moments before.

The woman is facing criminal charges, even though she apparently was driving within the designated lane and speed limit, and simply made a tragic mistake.

For 15 years I worked as an ocean lifeguard in Southern California, where only emergency and maintenance vehicles were allowed on the beaches. As lifeguards, we were trained in beach driving, which is very different than highway driving.

We were also reminded, during training and later, through our own experiences, of the dangerous nature of driving on the beach.

One such danger came from adults spreading their towels and sitting down in front of our vehicles when our attention was elsewhere. If we erroneously believed there was no one in front of us, tragedy could follow.

An even more common danger was small children wandering in front of, or even crawling under, our vehicles. Without special care, it was easy to get into a vehicle and drive off, not knowing that anyone was in peril.

We were required to get out of our vehicles and walk around to the front and look underneath before driving off, even if we had just received an emergency call.

One lovely summer day in Malibu, I heard the sickening sound of multiple vehicles colliding behind me on Pacific Coast Highway. Such collisions usually involved serious injuries, so I responded rapidly. Still, I followed procedure, first jumping out of, then looking in front of, then underneath, my truck.

I had to delay a few moments to remove the little girl I found underneath, hugging the front of the back tire. I grabbed and delivered her quickly into the hands of the embarrassed mother who had, apparently, looked away for just a few moments.

If I had panicked when I heard the crash and not followed my training, I would have killed the little girl. I also would not have been able to respond to what turned out to be a multiple-injury accident a few hundred yards away.

It is irrational to expect trained emergency workers to never make safety-related mistakes. It is irresponsible to continue to allow untrained people to drive on the beach. It is also a great financial liability for taxpayers and governments.

If the reported facts are accurate, the major responsibility in this case lies with the governments that allow this practice and the citizens who vociferously block such reform, not with a clueless beach driver approaching her golden years.

It is well past time for Florida's government officials to protect citizens and visitors and ban people from driving on its beaches.

This will also reduce pollution in the sand and eliminate negative stories like this, which discourage people from vacationing here. Most of all, it will provide a more relaxing environment for everyone to enjoy Florida's wonderful waves and sands.

Bron Taylor is professor of religion and environmental ethics at the University of Florida. He is also the author, most recently, of "Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future," which includes a chapter on surfing spirituality. His Web site is brontaylor.com.

Driving on Daytona Beach: a dangerous policy 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 8:23pm]

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