Are You Ready for Swimming Pool Season?

In Chapter 5 of Freakonomics, which explores the art and science of parenting, we pose this question: Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? It turns out that far more children die each year in swimming pool accidents than in gun incidents. For parents in warm-weather states like Florida, California, and Arizona, this is plainly a year-round concern, and now that summer seems to have leapt over spring (at least here in New York City, where it hit 80 F. yesterday), swimming-pool season is nearly here for all of us.

That’s why I thought it was worthwhile to pass along this e-mail from Bob Lyons of Ottawa, who in 1998 invented a “personal immersion alarm” called the Safety Turtle. (Too bad this guy came along too soon for American Inventor; they really could have used him.) As Lyons writes:

Many mothers [and grandparents and pet owners] were positive; while men were often dismissive. Yet, astonishingly, actions said: “great invention for other people,” but for us, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”! I wonder how the inventor of the car seat belt did?

Fortunately, Safety Turtle technology was adopted in workplaces and in boating. And finally pool owners are buying it in large numbers. It’s saving lives as intended, as a last layer of protection — not, to quote a dismissive pool & spa industry leader in 2001, as an “electronic baby sitter.”

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? is pretty compelling. Thank you for helping expose the anomaly that has been so tragic for so many families.

Hey Bob: maybe you’ll consider giving me and Levitt your Safety Turtle sales data so we can back and see if the areas that buy more of your Safety Turtles end up suffering less pool accidents and injuries?

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  1. robert says:

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  5. Steven says:

    In the same vein as the “driving vs. flying” example, it would be vastly more appropriate to inquire about the *per-hour* death rate of swimming pools vs. guns.

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    • willie says:

      driving v. flying is a per mile argument, not per hour. And to properly argue, add up all the hours that a child is unsupervised in the pool and all the hours they are unsupervised with loaded guns.

      But regardless, by buying an inground pool, you are giving your child all that exposure to a deadly thing. Why does per hour work into the equation? One pool equals lots of death chances, one gun is very few. Obviously the deaths per hour of use number is way lower for pools, but you need to compare lifetime chances of death by that danger, not per hour of use.

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  6. Steven says:

    In the same vein as the “driving vs. flying” example, it would be vastly more appropriate to inquire about the *per-hour* death rate of swimming pools vs. guns.

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  7. joshua says:

    It’s a perfectly good comparison, it sounds like the commenters just don’t like it. It is a useful comparison since you can for example, conclude that while guns are a risk, more lives can be saved by improving safety around pools.

    I’ve noticed a trend in research where people’s reaction to the conclusions are based on their own personal beliefs. Maybe I like guns more than pools.

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  8. joshua says:

    It’s a perfectly good comparison, it sounds like the commenters just don’t like it. It is a useful comparison since you can for example, conclude that while guns are a risk, more lives can be saved by improving safety around pools.

    I’ve noticed a trend in research where people’s reaction to the conclusions are based on their own personal beliefs. Maybe I like guns more than pools.

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    • Marc says:

      Did you even bother to read the book or let alone understand the statistical data? This is what the data showed:

      “In 1997 742 children under the age of 10 drowned; 550 of those drownings — about 75 percent of the total — occurred in residential swimming pools. According to the most recent statistics, there are about six million residential pools, meaning that one young child drowns annually for every 11,000 pools.

      About 175 children under the age of 10 died in 1998 as a result of guns. About two-thirds of those deaths were homicides. There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States. Doing the math, there is roughly one child killed by guns for every one million guns.

      Thus, on average, if you both own a gun and have a swimming pool in the backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.”

      So all you people saying is rubbish or not true; should first get a degree in statistics or at least some basic skills in reading and mathematics. Then you can state your expert opinion.

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      • michael says:

        The number of US kids and teens who die from gunshot wounds in hospital has risen almost 60 percent in a decade, according to a new report.

        The study by two doctors looked at data from 1997 to 2009, and found the number of those hospitalized with gunshot wounds rose from 4,270 to 7,730, while the number of those that then died from them climbed from 317 to 503.
        - An annual average of 390 pool or spa-related drownings for children younger than 15 occurred from 2007 to 2009; about 75 percent (293) of the reported fatalities involved children younger than five.

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