Independence weekend is a time to reflect on the sacrifices that people have made to protect our freedoms, but several advocacy groups also warn that can be a dangerous time for those who abuse alcohol or carelessly use fireworks.
“The Fourth of July festivities can be so much fun. People make plans for the partying, but too many drivers don’t plan ahead to get home safely,” said Monica Farrar, director of The Resource Training Center in Amherst, which promotes alcohol- and drug-free driving through education and other programs.
Farrar urged everyone to plan ahead this weekend and designate a sober driver, pointing out that alcohol-related fatalities tend to spike around holidays, including those in which the holiday falls on a long weekend like this one.
During the Independence Day holiday in 2013, 512 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and of these, 39 percent died in crashes involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with blood-alcohol content 0.08 percent or higher. Almost half were ages 18 to 34.
The training center urges the following:
• Plan a safe way home before the fun begins.
• Before drinking, designate a sober driver.
• If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation so you are sure to get home safely.
• If you see a drunken driver on the road, don’t hesitate to call 911 or contact local law enforcement.
• If you know people who are about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements.
Two groups – Prevent Blindness and the Amputee Coalition – urge people to handle fireworks carefully, follow instructions and ensure children are properly supervised when using fireworks this weekend.
New York State government this year allowed communities to lift the state ban on the sale and use small fireworks from June 1 to July 5 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.
In Western New York, Niagara, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties have done so. Other counties in the region, including Erie, have not.
More than 11,000 Americans ended up in an emergency room in 2013 because of injuries from fireworks, and eight people lost their lives in firework-related accidents, according to Prevent Blindness. According to the Amputee Coalition, more 600 people are expected to be treated on July 4 alone. Most of these injuries involve hands, fingers, eyes and legs, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The commission offers these fireworks tips:
• Make sure the fireworks you want to buy are legal to use in your area.
• Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers.
• Always have an adult nearby to supervise fireworks activities if older children are allowed to handle devices.
• Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper, which is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and could pose a danger to consumers.
• Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
• Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
• Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away.
• Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
• Light fireworks one at a time, then move away from them quickly.
• Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
• After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent item with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding the item to prevent a trash fire.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives encourages the public to report the manufacture or sale of illegal fireworks to local law enforcement agencies or to the ATF hotline: 888-283-2662.