Citing a number of young people who have drowned in recent months, Louisville Metro Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, has filed an ordinance that would require children to wear a personal floatation device while at any public waterway within the city limits.
The legislation would require anyone under 13 years of age to wear a life jacket while in or around any river, lake or creek accessible to the general public. It carries a $100 fine for each separate offense and could include criminal charges under state law.
Welch says she drafted the ordinance after a lieutenant with Metro Police brought up growing concerns about the recent rash of incidents where children died in waterways. The councilwoman cited adult negligence as a leading cause of those accidents.
“I’m hopeful that it will get people used to purchasing life preservers and having it for their children. It’s very hazardous and adults get busy doing things that they have to do with their boats and their camps and their fishing gear. And so the only real protection is to have a life preserver on those children,” she says.
The city bill exempts public swimming pools with certified lifeguards.
Drowning is listed as the second leading cause of accidental death for children 4 years old and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
However, many young children who have recently drowned in the Louisville area were either at hotel pools, private resorts or waterways outside the city. Those accidents wouldn’t have been covered by the law, Welch admits, but she believes the ordinance will at least generate a debate to prevent further drownings.
According to a Coast Guard spokesman, children under 13 are already required to wear life preservers while on the Ohio River. State law already requires them to wear a floatation device while a boat is operating on any Kentucky waterway.
Councilman James Peden, R-23, chair of the Public Safety Committee was unavailable for comment, but Republican caucus spokesman Steve Haag says GOP members are generally supportive of the measure to reduce accidents.
But council Republicans do have concerns about the ordinance’s effect and cost to residents, who could be subject to fine.
“We want to make sure that any ordinance that is proposed is effective as the sponsors intend it to be so that it’s not overbearing on those people who regularly visit the water’s edge as visitors or tourists,” says Haag. “Are we going to mandate that any child at Waterfront Park has to have a life jacket? And if so, you’re going to have to have people buy life jackets just to visit the river, which goes throughout our community.”
Asked about the boundaries at Waterfront Park if the bill passed, Welch didn’t elaborate and said the ordinance may be amended before going to committee. But the south Louisville councilwoman stressed adults need to take more precautions with their children and the cost of purchasing a floatation device shouldn’t be an excuse.
“I would think saving the life of a child would be priceless,” she says. “The $20 or so, you can probably get them cheaper than that after the season’s over. I just don’t think the life of a child, it’s priceless. That’s a minimal cost to save a life,” says. Welch
The ordinance is co-sponsored by Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15, and will be given a first read at the council meeting Thursday. It will be sent to the Public Safety Committee for debate.