Family picnics, neighborhood barbecues, rousing patriotic concerts, colorful parades and spectacular fireworks displays will bring joy and excitement to the lives of millions of Americans this July 4th weekend. Men, women and children of all ages will gather with loved ones to observe the 238th anniversary of our country’s birth, in appreciation of our freedoms (and the great summer weather) and animated by a lively spirit of celebration. For most people, the holiday provides the perfect excuse to kick back, let loose and have a good time. Parties will be common and the beer, wine and liquor will be flowing, as alcohol consumption will hit a peak that only the annual New Year’s celebration can come close to matching.
Drinking and Driving Don’t Mix; and Yet People Still Mix Them
Travel plays a role in most holiday observances, and on the 4th of July people will be out and about in prodigious numbers. According to American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates, 41 million U.S. residents will take at least one trip of 50 miles or longer to participate in Fourth of July-related activities, 35 million of them riding in automobiles exclusively. Unfortunately, but all too predictably, when this vast mass of humanity heads for home again, far too many will be traveling in cars piloted by drivers under the influence of alcohol. Drunk driving reaches its highest levels around the Fourth of July and, not surprisingly, more people die in car wrecks on this weekend than at any other time during the year. Data collected over a period of 25 years by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that on average, 400 Americans will die in traffic accidents over any given July 4th holiday weekend. This tops the numbers for New Year’s, Memorial and Labor Day weekends, as well as for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Drivers with blood-alcohol limits above .08 (the current legal limit) cause more than 40 percent of the fatal car crashes that occur at this time. But if drivers with blood-alcohol levels above .05 (when significant impairment begins to occur) were included in the calculations, this number would rise well above the 50 percent level. In truth there really is no “safe” amount of alcohol for those who plan to drive, and the more that is consumed, the worse a person will perform when behind the wheel of an automobile. And it is important to note that for every person who dies in an automobile accident, approximately 70 more will be inflicted with injuries serious enough to require medical attention. So fatality statistics alone don’t reveal the true costs in human suffering associated with driving under the influence of alcohol. Despite knowing the dangers, it is perplexing how many men and women still think it’s OK to drive after drinking to excess. They apparently don’t realize how intoxicated they really are, or perhaps they believe bad things only happen to other people and not to them. Driving under the influence is a preventable crime that too many are failing to prevent. As a result, lives are lost tragically and needlessly—on the Fourth of July and throughout the rest of the year.
Booze, Boats and Bottle Rockets: Bad Combinations Produce Bad Results
While much attention is paid—and rightly so—to the risks of drinking and driving on the Fourth of July, this is not the only hazard revelers face. Millions head to the water on this weekend as well, and the number of people hurt in boating accidents on the holiday rises well above the norm. With lakes, rivers, harbors and marinas more crowded than ever, it can be difficult for inexperienced boat pilots to avoid hitting something, and drunken boat pilots have an even harder time keeping their craft on the straight and narrow. Coast Guard statistics reveal that 17 percent of all fatal boating accidents are related to alcohol use. Law enforcement officials from coast to coast are unanimous in reporting that incidents of drinking and driving on the water rise dramatically over the July 4th weekend, and while precise statistics are hard to find, there is little doubt the risk of death jumps dramatically as a result. More than 80 percent of the people who die in boating accidents (approximately 700-800 annually in the United States) are victims of drowning and, needless to say, intoxication will inhibit a person’s ability to swim rather significantly. Independence Day is of course closely associated with fireworks, most of which are purchased for home use. Setting off fireworks is risky business in the best of cases, but when people start mixing alcohol with sparklers, cherry bombs, firecrackers, bottle rockets or Roman candles, the chances of something going wrong go up exponentially. Each year more than 10,000 Americans are admitted to hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to fireworks, and about half of these victims are burned and maimed during the Fourth of July holiday season. Business in the fireworks industry is booming at this time of the year in more ways than one, and anyone who starts playing around with these miniature explosives while under the influence of alcohol is playing with dynamite, both figuratively and literally.
Stupid Is as Stupid Does – So Don’t Be Stupid!
People never start out planning to do stupid things when they are drinking. But alcohol affects judgment and perception, and very few of us are able to make sound and sensible decisions when under the influence of this seductive, mind- and-body-altering intoxicant. The July 4th holiday is haunted by the memories of those who have lost their lives because of foolish behavior related to alcohol consumption. As members of society we have a collective responsibility to pay attention to the risks attached to our personal choices, and we should always plan our activities carefully to make sure we aren’t putting ourselves or others in grave danger. The Independence Day weekend is a time for celebration, not grief and sorrow, and if we learn to play it smart we can prevent tragedies from happening while still having a rousing good time.