Costal zones (sand) stabilize the shoreline; detoxify polluted water; support recreation and culture practice; and house a unique lifeline of biodiversity, but with so much traffic over them, who gets a license to drive on the sand?
A dune buggy, scaling a cliff, cloaked in a cloud of sand Cassidy-Rae Gonzalez for Green Dream
Amongst the countless lifeguard stories I’ve heard from my father growing up, one specific theme kept resurfacing — the intense stress of driving on the beach. Rather than highlighting his improbable rescues, the glory attached to being a Malibu Lifeguard, or even the girls, every story he told accounted for the difficulty of navigating a crowded beach on an ATV or in a truck.
The pattern in his stories resonated with me when I discovered that driving related accidents on the sand are still a major public safety hazard, environmental concern, and complicated obstacle for lifeguards.
In virtue of my investigation, I believe it’s time to bring my father’s deepest concern about being a lifeguard past our dinner table topics and into the public conversation.
The Sand Dune Dilemma
Perhaps it's never crossed your mind while lying on the sand, but there is a very real threat someone could run you over with their ATV. It’s happened many times before, one of the more recent incidents involved an off-duty police officer in Long Beach New York.
According to NBC New York, a 48-year-old man got his torso ran over and sustained “broken ribs and a bruised lung” while during that same accident a 36 year-old woman suffered a “leg injury and broken finger”.
When reporters asked a spokesperson from the police department to describe the incident, the department claimed that the off-duty police officer “ just didn't see them" and "it was a terrible accident."
In retrospect, these accidents almost seem inevitable. Beachgoers tend to put themselves in harm's way by burying themselves in the sand, lying on camouflaged beach towels, and blatantly disregarding their surroundings. Even worse, the driver’s point of view is obstructed by uneven terrains, hills, and sandstorms. Making the likelihood of accident all the more likely.
As dangerous as it is for those in the ATV’s path, there are even more hazards for the driver. The uneven terrain, cliffs, and lack of friction can spell disaster, especially for inexperienced or stressed drivers, which often mix during recreation.
On Friday, April 19, the Mercury news reported that “Narcissa Lichtman, 44, of San Jose, was killed when the off-road vehicle in which she was riding crashed from a 25- to 30-foot-tall dune.”
According to another accident report, recovered by Mercury News, the following Friday afternoon killed Chor Vang, 34, of Sacramento at that same park. The driver was “thrown from the ATV and then struck by it; investigators believe he fell off when braking suddenly at the top of a dune.”
The Collapse of Coastal Zones
According to a research article that examined the Impact of human activities on coastal vegetation, Coastal zones “constitute complex interface ecosystems between the land and sea and are among the most productive systems in the world.”
And it's easy to see why: coastal zones stabilize the shoreline; detoxify polluted water; support recreation and culture practice; and house a unique lifeline of biodiversity.
Humans have become so reliant on our coastlines that “40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km them”, yet most of us don’t blink an eye when we see a motor vehicle drive over them, prompting the question: what exactly happens when we trample over these vital ecosystems with ATVs?
The rolling Imperial Sand Dunes Cassidy-Rae Gonzalez for Green Dream
Although dunes are notoriously resilient — putting up with salt sprays, crashing waves, and swarms of human traffic — vehicles take ecosystem disruption to a new level.
An assessment of the impact vehicles have on sand ecosystems suggests that “due to weight and type of motion, the damage caused by vehicles is more widespread than that caused by human trampling”.
Even worse, this sort of stampeding “destroys the complex spatial structure of the dune ecosystem that results from the strong environmental gradients”.
Moreover, the condensed weight and vibrations from vehicle overpass can damage the physical properties of the beach and its stability, disturb vegetation, and even injure or kill fauna.
The report claimed that “mortality affects not only vertebrates like turtles and birds (destruction of eggs and young) but also invertebrates such as isopods, amphipods, crabs and certain echinoderms.”
It’s safe to say that ATVs on the beach are doing more harm than good.
As easy as it is for us to get lost in the spectacle of the beach’s surface, we should not ignore the fact that every time a motorized vehicle crosses it, an entire underground ecosystem gets trampled — which often causes irreversible damage.
Personal Injury Lawyers Attack on Hawaii Lifeguards
Lifeguards do more than just scan for distress signals, they oversee the entire flow of the beach. A part of their job is to warn beachgoers of the unforeseen dangers that each set, tide, and wave bring. It’s safe to assume that this act of prevention has saved countless lives; however, that is not where the lifeguard’s job ends.
Over the years, lifeguards have been crucial players in a collection of improbable rescues in notoriously risky situations, which often required them to risk their own life in an attempt to save another.
When lifeguards are in the break, meaning they are in the process of saving someone, they sometimes need to battle massive wave faces, rip currents, or alternating tides. With such menacing obstacles, equipping them with every resource available would seem like a given; however, Hawaii congress gutted senate bill 562 in 2017, which stripped away their immunity.
Following this act of congress, lifeguards are now vulnerable to lawsuits from personal injury lawyers in the event they cannot save a drowning victim or injure someone in the process. (An immersive video by The Inertia first brought this to our attention.)
According to Nathan Eagle, of the Civil Beat, you can blame a “group of prominent personal injury lawyers with strong ties to House leaders for thwarting an effort to extend most liability protection to lifeguards who might face lawsuits related to their jobs.”
To couple with this, the Star Advertiser reported that in 2018, nearly 10 million people visited the Hawaiian islands. Hawaii’s population is also increasing at a steady, linear rate, which is bringing flocks of inexperienced swimmers to the beach.
While the likelihood of an accident involving an ATV and a pedestrian increases, so does the chance for a drowning, both of which fall in the lap of lifeguards — who now have no financial backing from the state.
It’s also important to note that the more events where a lifeguard needs to save a person from drowning, the more of a chance there is of a pedestrian accident.
During a rescue, a lifeguard will most likely need to use an ATV to reach the person in distress as soon as possible, which can cause them to be under extreme stress. As mentioned before, being stressed can increase the likelihood of negligent driving, which can be the key ingredient to a disaster in the sand.
In 1987, Craig Aurness opened the public’s eyes to the night scene at the Imperial Sand Dunes, this highlighted a debate that is still going on: “Should wilderness be reserved for the quiet contemplation of low-impact visitors? Or should citizens with nosier, higher impact tastes in recreation also find accommodation on public lands?” Image via the National Geographic
Where I Would Draw the Line in the Sand
At first thought, it would seem that ATVS should be eliminated from the equation to decrease the likelihood of an accident, but ATVs are vital to the success of lifeguards. Not only do they increase lifeguard’s mobility, but they also haul life-saving equipment to scenes of emergencies.
The answer should not be to take away ATVs from lifeguards, but to revise senate bill 562 to give lifeguards back their immunity. This will allow lifeguards to be better suited and protected to do their job.
Limiting lifeguard resources will hurt the community, the tourism industry, and lifeguard morale.
I would argue, however, that routine lifeguard patrols should be limited. The damage that it has on the underground eco-systems is heavy and, without immunity, the potential to hit a pedestrian could have devastating financial effects for lifeguards who already get criminally under-compensated for their work.
And finally, I would urge law enforcement to crack down on recreational motorsport happening on our beaches. The risk of an accident involving the driver or someone in its path are already high, but add that to the damage it causes to our ecosystems and the cons seemingly outweigh the positives.
Cracking down on the traffic happening over the sand will bring another set of economic and environmental protection to our most precious public lands.