By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Americans will celebrate 243 years of independence this Thursday, July 4, with traditional public or private fireworks displays and cookouts, and many will commemorate the holiday through the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Public safety and other agencies stress the need for caution and care in all three traditions to prevent tragedy from intruding upon the special day, traditionally recognized as one of the deadliest holiday periods of the year.
According to the most recent statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 601 traffic fatalities during the 2017 Fourth of July holiday period. Nearly 40 percent (237) involved alcohol-impaired drivers, and nearly 60 percent of those involved a driver or motorcyclist with a blood-alcohol content of .15 or higher. (The legal limit is .08.)
Alabama State Troopers and other Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) personnel will be out in force in an effort to keep impaired drivers off the roadways.
“As we approach the Independence Day holiday, ALEA urges motorists to drive sober, buckle up and focus on driving … no distractions,” said Lt. Joe Piggott. “Expect additional patrols and stepped-up enforcement during the holiday travel period that begins (at 6 p.m.) on Wednesday, July 3, and runs through midnight on Sunday, July 7.”
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks and Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson each said his agency would beef up patrols during the holiday period. Each also urged caution in other areas.
“We ask everybody to be safe with fireworks,” the police chief said. “If you’re going to be shooting off fireworks, be respectful of your neighbors and their pets.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association noted on its website that fireworks and other celebratory noises can frighten pets and cause them to run away, and that potentially dangerous debris left on the ground or out in the open could be eaten by pets, with hazardous results.
Another Independence Day tradition, the cookout, also includes inherent dangers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns outdoor chefs to check their grills periodically to remove grease or meat fat buildup and to make sure the grill is open and a three-foot “kid-free and pet-free zone” established around it before it’s lit.
FEMA also urges those who cook outdoors to make sure their grills are well away from buildings and decks, as well as branches or overhangs, and to avoid loose clothing that can come into flames and ignite.
Jackson asked residents and visitors to drive safely and to use caution when celebrating outdoors, where temperatures in the mid-90-degree range — with a heat index above 100 degrees — are projected for Thursday.
“I want to ask people not to drink and drive, to obey the speed limits and if they’re going to be out in the sun, to stay hydrated,” the sheriff said.