Baby Care

VA Summer Safety Guide: Swimming, Sun, Roads, Lakes, Hot Cars, Snakes

VIRGINIA — It’s time to break out the flip-flops and prepare for a fun summer in Virginia, but do so with caution. Summer is one of the most dangerous times of the year.

We’ll start with the sun.


Whatever you’re doing outside, protect your eyes and skin. Anyone can get skin cancer, chiefly caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds.

Prolonged exposure to the sun can also cause photokeratitis, a painful, temporary condition caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays. It’s a bit like a sunburn, except that it affects the corneas of your eyes instead of your skin. Prolonged exposure can also cause eye diseases such as macular degeneration or cataracts.

What to do:

  • Don’t forget the sunglasses — that includes the kiddos, too, but don’t fit them in sunglasses bought in the toy aisle that don’t offer protection. The FDA recommends glasses with a UV400 rating or lenses that offer 100 percent UV protection. Keep in mind, dark lenses and UV protection are not synonymous. Also, consider large, wrap-around frames.

Dive Into Summer, But Safely

Be careful in the water. In Virginia, about 1.03 people per 100,000 population drown every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drowning is a leading cause of death in children ages 1-4, and among children ages 5-14, it’s the second leading cause of death after motor vehicle crashes, according to the CDC.

It’s not just kids who are at risk, though. The CDC says 4,000 people die a year in unintentional drownings, an average of 11 a day, and 8,000 people, an average of 22 a day, survive drowning. About 40 percent of drownings treated at emergency rooms require hospitalizations or transfers for further care for injuries that can range to severe with brain damage or long-term disability

What to do about it:

  • Know what drowning looks like — and what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look at all like the dramatic scenarios depicted on television and in the movies. Real-life drowning happens quietly, without flailing arms and frantic calls for help. People can’t simply stop drowning long enough to take in a breath of air and call for help. The human body isn’t built that way.
  • Make sure gates to private pools are secure and kids can’t access or unlock them.
  • Make sure kids are supervised at all times — and no looking down at the cellphone the entire time they’re in the pool or at the beach.
  • Enroll your kids in swimming lessons (and, with a national lifeguard shortage, encourage advanced swimmers to earn their certification).
  • Everyone in the boat wears a life jacket — no exceptions.
  • Don’t drink while you’re in the water. According to the CDC, 70 percent of all deaths associated with water recreation involve alcohol, and 1 in 5 are boating deaths.

Snakes In Lakes And Other Places

If you’re swimming in a lake, hiking in the woods or just working in your garden, you can reliably count on a snake being nearby. About 8,000 people are bitten by snakes every year, according to the CDC. Most snakes are harmless, but even those bites can cause an infection or allergic reaction.

Virginia has three species of venomous snakes — meaning they can inject poisonous venom into their victim through a pair of hollow, needle-like fangs — out of the 30 estimated snake species in the state.

The three Virginia poisonous species are the copperhead, the timber rattlesnake, and the water moccasin (also known as the cottonmouth), according to the University of Virginia.

If you’re spending the summer somewhere else, you should know about the 10 deadliest snakes in North America:

  • The cottonmouth, which likes to hide in water throughout the Southeast and in the coastal plains north to Virginia.
  • The timber rattlesnake, found from eastern Kansas, Texas, Iowa and central Wisconsin to Georgia, the Carolinas, West Virginia, western Virginia, Pennsylvania and New England.
  • The black diamond rattlesnake, found widely across the western half of North America, from British Columbia to northern Mexico.
  • The copperhead, found throughout the eastern and central United States.
  • The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (the biggest venomous snake in North America), found in the pinelands of Florida, the coastal plains of North Carolina and southern Mississippi through eastern Louisiana.
  • The Mojave rattlesnake (the most venomous rattlesnake in the world), found in the desert Southwest

What to do:

  • Before you venture go into the woods or some other place where snakes may be, make sure you have a plan on how to get emergency medical help — a good idea in any case. And make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit.
  • While you’re waiting for medical help, lay or sit the person down, positing them, so the bite is below the level of the heart; wash the wound with warm, soapy water; and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing from your

Pack Defensive Driving Skills

Pack your defensive driving skills with everything else if you’re heading out on a road trip — or just commuting to work or running errands around town. About 97 percent of summer trips are by car, according to AAA. It’s unrealistic to expect all drivers will be on their best behavior, though.

Early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate fatal crashes in warm-weather months were down in 2022, compared to the 2020 pandemic spike and increases in 2021.

The motor vehicle fatalities in Virginia increased by 2.4 percent from 973 in 2021 to 996 in 2022, according to the estimates.

What to do:

  • Don’t drink and drive. Drunken driving makes the summer season one of the most dangerous on the nation’s highways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, whose data shows more drunken drivers involved in fatal crashes during May, June and July than any other time of the year.
  • Plan ahead for a safe ride home with a sober driver — even if you’ve only had one drink. A sober driver is one who hasn’t had anything to drink — not the one who has had the least to drink.
  • If you’re hosting a party, make sure designated drivers have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. Don’t let your friends drive drunk. Take away their keys, and make arrangements for them to get home safely or put them up for the night.
  • If you see a drunken driver on the road, pull over and call 911.

It’s Hot Car Season

Another important vehicle safety reminder: Cars can heat up quickly, even on mild days, becoming deadly in little as 10 minutes. As of May 23, 2023, at least 943 children have died of pediatric vehicular heat stroke because they were either forgotten or left in locked cars, or because they wandered into them during play.

On average, 38 kids a year die in hot cars. This year, as of May 23, four kids have died in hot cars.

Since 1998, 30 kids in Virginia have died of vehicular heat stroke because they were left in hot cars.

What to do:

Take the time to educate yourself to understand how parents and others can forget their kids are in cars — it happens to the best of parents and, according to experts, is most often unintentional. NHTSA offers these tips:

  • Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running, and the air conditioning is on.
  • Make it a habit to check your entire vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. Train yourself to “park, look, lock,” or always ask yourself, “Where’s baby?”
  • Ask your child care provider to call if your child doesn’t show up for care as expected.
  • Place a personal item, such as a purse or briefcase in the back seat, as another reminder to look before you lock. Write a note or place a stuffed animal in the passenger’s seat to remind you that a child is in the back seat.
  • Store car keys out of a child’s reach, and teach children that a vehicle is not a play area. A quarter of all hot car deaths occur because the child got into an unlocked car, not because a parent left them inside, according to the NHTSA.

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