Summer is almost here, and as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, celebrations and fun outdoor activities become more common. Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season. Family and friends may gather for solemn events, such as ceremonies for members of the military who have been killed during active service, and other activities, including picnics, barbecues, swimming, hiking, boating, and more. Memorial Day can be a wonderful holiday weekend, but, unfortunately, it also brings an increased risk for accidents and injuries.
Travel SafetyMillions of Americans hit the road when summer begins, and Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. It is four times more likely that someone will die in a traffic accident over an extended weekend compared to a regular weekend. Additionally, the average number of accident fatalities on Memorial Day weekend over the past six years is 9 percent higher than the average number of accident fatalities in other periods. One of the most significant factors contributing to motor vehicle accidents is drunk driving, and this can increase over Memorial Day weekend for a number of reasons. People who have enjoyed a long day of celebrating may mistake themselves as being simply tired when they are actually intoxicated. The higher than normal number of people who are out and drinking may make it more difficult to get home using a safe transportation alternative, like taxis or a rideshare service. Finally, some people choose to drive, even though they have been drinking, because they underestimate the effect of alcohol on them, or they convince themselves that their destination is so close they will be able to safely drive the distance. In fact, anyone who drives under the influence is endangering themselves and everyone else who shares the roads. While Virginia State Police report Memorial Day weekend traffic deaths were actually down in 2018, be especially vigilant if you are traveling during this holiday weekend. Watch out for and avoid drivers who seem distracted, reckless, or under the influence. Be aware that heavier than usual traffic can also increase the likelihood of road rage. Never drive after drinking, buckle up, obey speed limits, avoid distractions, take frequent breaks, be a courteous and defensive driver, and report suspected drunk drivers to state patrol or local law enforcement.
Water SafetyFor many people, summer means having fun in the water, and many private and public pools open for the season Memorial Day weekend. Swimming can be a great way to beat the heat, but it’s important to know that drowning is a leading cause of child deaths. Approximately 350 children drown each year, most of them age five or younger. Drowning, or near-drowning, is quick, silent, and can lead to permanent brain injuries or death. A few simple rules can help to prevent tragedy:
- Always supervise children. A responsible adult should supervise children at all times, and they should be completely focused on that task and not using a device or phone, reading, napping, or leave the area, even for a minute. If they must go elsewhere, another adult should be put in charge. If there is a young child or one with limited swimming skills, the adult should be within reach of the child. That usually means they should also be in the water.
- Blow-up or foam toys are not safety devices. If a child is unable to swim without the aid of a toy, they need a life jacket or safety device instead.
- Use the buddy system. Some people assume all adults are good swimmers. However, that is definitely not true. Furthermore, even adults who are competent swimmers can become injured or suffer a health event in the water that puts them in danger. If there is no lifeguard present, no one should swim without a buddy.
- Does anybody here know CPR? A person can die quickly from a swimming accident, and a responsible adult who knows CPR can make the difference between life and death for a victim.
- Is it safe to dive here? Safe depth for diving depends on factors like the diver’s angle and technique, but in general, less than six feet is too shallow.
- Keep the pool area clear of toys. Toys that are not being used should be kept far from the edge of the pool. Unsupervised children may be tempted to play with toys and fall in.
- Is there a storm coming? If you hear thunder or see lightning, everyone should stay out of the water for at least 30 minutes.
- Swim sober. Swimming requires skill and judgment, so swimming while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be just as risky as driving.
- Avoid potential accidents. The risk for overheating, dehydration, and exhaustion increases in crowded places, including pools. Watch out for others, especially people behaving negligently or recklessly in or near the water.
- Missing or broken fences or gates;
- Malfunctioning or hazardous pool equipment;
- Defective, non-existent, or inaccessible safety equipment, such as a rope or pole around the pool;
- Opaque, murky water (making it difficult to see a submerged swimmer);
- Broken, clogged or uncovered drains;
- Negligent, inattentive, or inadequately trained lifeguards;
- Broken pool lights;
- Insufficient rules and warning signs;
- Broken ladders; and
- Broken or insecure pool cover.
Boating SafetyIf you are spending Memorial Day weekend on a boat, kayak, canoe, jet ski or other watercraft, ensure everyone is aware of the safety rules:
- Know your boat, and know the waterway. If you are boating in an unfamiliar area, review local charts and maps, or take a knowledgeable boater with you.
- Know and follow all applicable Virginia boating laws and regulations.
- Wear a life jacket. All passengers should wear a life jacket, regardless of their swimming skills. Have a life jacket for each person on board, and also carry a few throwable personal floatation devices.
- Boat sober. Do not operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or even certain prescription medications.
- Be aware of other boaters, and stay away from boaters who are operating their boat erratically.
Barbecue SafetyBarbecues can be fun and delicious, but the National Fire Protection Association reports outdoor grilling causes about 8,900 home fires and countless injuries every year. If you are hosting a barbecue:
- Charcoal and gas grills are for open outdoor use only. Watch out for patios, porches, balconies, and overhanging tree branches.
- Put your grill on a flat surface, to avoid the risk of it tipping over.
- Check for propane gas leaks before the first barbecue of the season. If the flame goes out after you have your gas grill started, turn the grill and gas off and wait at least five minutes before re-lighting.
- Keep the grill clean. Scrub off any grease or fat buildup from cooking.
- Use caution. A barbecue starter fluid is a safer way to start a fire.
- Be prepared for a fire. A fire extinguisher should be immediately accessible. It is also a good idea to keep a bucket of sand nearby. Use baking soda instead of water to put out a grease fire.
- Pay attention to your grill. Never leave a lighted grill unattended. Keep children and pets away from the grill. Remember that a grill will stay hot for at least an hour after use.