John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mandatory life jackets may be next safety step

Word is trickling down that the Corps of Engineers will soon implement mandatory life jacket regulations at the four north Mississippi flood control reservoirs.

Sardis Reservoir Corps of Engineer Ranger Billy Latham said that details of the program have yet to be worked out. A pilot program has been proposed for Sardis, Arkabutla, Enid and Grenada Lakes. If successful, the mandatory life jacket regulations may be adopted throughout the country.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The proposal has alarmed several lake users whose version of the mandatory life jacket policy has anyone of any age required to wear at all times life preservers when they are within 25 feet of a Corps lake.

That would include fisherfolk who sit on the rocks, and, presumably, swimmers at the beaches.

Also unknown is what affect a mandatory life jacket policy would have on drivers who cross over the outlet channel and the long road atop the levees. Would they be required to wear life jackets? Can a life jacket be worn in addition to a car’s safety belt? Would wearing an auto safety belt require development of a special life jacket to comply with the Corps of Engineers’ mandatory life jacket policy? Holy Homeland inSecurity!

And where is all this going to lead? Down that slippery slope, of course. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to figure out whether we’ve just begun the descent down the slippery slope or whether we’re sliding down it backwards and full speed ahead. The tradeoffs we’re considering are whether the lives presumably to be preserved by the mandatory wearing of preservers are worth the injury we face when we finally crash at the bottom of the slippery slope that we’ve been constantly warned about.

But before we go off half-cocked, we should remember that the foregoing examples might be the henny-penny version of a reasonable water safety policy. But it bears watching. Lake users should be ready for any notice of a public hearing or other opportunity that might allow their input about a mandatory life jacket policy.