Riverside breathalysers aim to reduce drink-drowning deaths
Posted on 23.01.2018
Have you ever been breath-tested in your togs?
It might sound comical but a pair of researchers will be taking a breathalyser to Australia’s favourite swimming spots to find out more about our high rate of river drownings.
A quarter of all drowning deaths in Australia occur in rivers and creeks, and 37 per cent of those involve alcohol.
And when it comes to drowning, the sexes are not equal — 80 per cent of drowning victims are male.
National manager for research and policy at Royal Life Saving Australia, Amy Peden said despite the awful statistics, no research had been done on river drownings.
“In terms of drowning prevention, the focus to date has been on children — particularly around the backyard pool environment and also beaches,” she said.
Australian drowning deaths by location, 2002–2012
- 25 per cent — river, creek, stream
- 18 per cent — ocean, harbour
- 16 per cent — beach
- 15 per cent — pool
- 10 per cent — lake, dam
- 7 per cent — bath
- 10 per cent — other
Source: Royal Life Saving Australia
“So rivers have been bubbling along as the leading location [of drowning] but because a lot happen in remote areas, a lot of people weren’t really aware of it.”
Under the supervision of James Cook University professor Richard Franklin, Ms Peden will examine why fatalities at rivers are so high, and how alcohol contributes to those deaths.
This summer the pair are interviewing and breathalysing hundreds of Australian swimmers and boaties at the Murrumbidgee and Hawkesbury Rivers, at Alligator Creek in north Queensland, and at the Murray River in Albury — Australia’s drowning blackspot.
Australia’s quiet killer
After their first weekend of research at Alligator Creek, Ms Peden and Professor Franklin said they were surprised to see a high rate of river users were women and young children paddling in the shallows.
They noted some alcohol consumption, particularly by younger adults, but not as much as might be suggested by the drowning deaths statistics.
“We saw way more women than men in every count that we did at the river, which was surprising to us given the prevalence of men in the fatality data,” Ms Peden said.
“That is why we are trying to contrast the fatality data with actual usage data and alcohol consumption data to get a better, more full picture of river usage, not just the fatality part.”
Professor Franklin said a fuller understanding of the range of river users and the different ways they behave could influence the way water safety campaigns are delivered in the future.
Royal Life Saving’s Don’t Let Your Mates Drink and Drown campaign was devised to address the high rate of river drownings in Australia that involved alcohol.
“It is an entire cultural shift — not just an education about rivers and alcohol”
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