In hopes of saving young kids, California beefs up pool safety law

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Between 2010 and 2014, more than 160 California children age 4 and under died due to drowning, according to state public health data. Drowning is one of the leading cause of death for young children.

As a way to turn that statistic around, the state’s 20-year-old Swimming Pool Safety Act is getting beefed up in the new year. 

Current law requires pools to have one safety feature in place to prevent drowning, like in-pool alarms, auto-locking fences and safety covers. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018, will require two products, out of seven options, to be in or around new and remodeled pools.

"We're going to create an obstacle course, so if the child gets outside, the child's going to have to go through a number of barriers before he or she reaches the pool," said Marcia Kerr, board member with the Drowning Prevention Foundation, which helped to author the legislation.

The majority of drowning incidents for little kids involve residential pools, which Kerr knows from experience. The Orange County resident lost her son in 1988.

"We were at work and a nanny was watching him," Kerr recalled, who actually had a pool cover, which was rolled off the water at the time of the incident. "Apparently he was sleep, but then he woke up after she went back into the kitchen and he got outside and got into the pool."

Between the years 2010 and 2015, more than 740 California children age one to four were hospitalized after a near-drowning incident.  

The law also seeks to bring older facilities in line with the new code. When a house with a pool goes on the market, home inspectors must examine pools to make sure two barriers are in place prior to sale. 

"In 1998, when the state bill went into effect, there were over a million swimming pools already out there, in the state of California, that we could not touch. The thoughts and hopes are that now all those pools are old and need innovation, so we can grab them now," said Nadina Riggsbee, who founded the Drowning Prevention Foundation. In 1978, her 2-year old daughter died from drowning and her 1-year-old son suffered brain damage. Having just turned 40, he still requires round-the-clock nursing care. 

SB 442, which was introduced in February by Sen. Josh Newman, of Orange County. The Drowning Prevention Foundation and other groups are dedicated to working with home inspectors to ensure the standards are implemented and enforced.