Planning to celebrate the 4th of July with drinks, fireworks and boat rides? State and local law enforcement agencies encourage Iowans to keep those activities separate and offer tips on how to stay safe during the holidays.
“This is going to be a busy holiday weekend. There are going to be a lot of people visiting family, visiting friends and having a good time on the 4th of July and celebrating this weekend,” said Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said. “We can’t stress enough that if people choose to go out, they make good decisions, they make reasonable decisions, and ultimately we want you to be safe while traveling to and from your destination.”
USA Today reported in 2020 that approximately 15,600 people in the US were hospitalized with fireworks-related injuries alone, the highest number in the last 15 years, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those injuries, 66% occurred between June 21, 2020 and July 21, 2020.
Fireworks aren’t the only danger around the Fourth of July holiday, and state and local law enforcement want the public to be aware of potential risks and maintain a safety plan.
Here are some safety issues to be aware of and what officials say you need to do to stay safe over the weekend.
Plus:Setting off fireworks for the 4th of July? Here are some tips to stay safe.
The sparkling water of one of Iowa’s lakes and rivers may seem like a welcoming place to celebrate the Fourth of July, but a lot can go wrong on the water, according to boating education coordinator Susan Stocker of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“A lot of things could be prevented if we educate our people and take the time to be security conscious,” Stocker said.
Preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health showed two accidental drowning deaths in the state in 2021. The department reported 27 accidental drowning deaths in 2020.
One way to prevent boating accidents is to take a boater education course, according to Stocker. Nautical education is required. for Iowans ages 12-17 who intend to operate a powerboat. The course is not required for adults, although Stocker highly recommends it for everyone.
“It’s a great idea for adults to take because insurance companies will give you a reduced rate on your boat insurance in the first place,” Stocker said. “And it also allows you to be more proactive, even if someone has been surfing their whole life. It allows you to be more proactive and watch out for people who aren’t as experienced as you are.”
Plus:Stay safe in and out of the water this summer with tips from the experts
Stocker emphasized the importance of looking around and being aware of your surroundings while cruising.
“An example might be, after it rains and there’s more water, then there’s going to be a debris flow in the water,” Stocker said. “You may only see a small stick in the water, but that could be attached to a tree 30 feet below the surface that could cause damage.”
A common mistake Stocker has observed is that ships sail too close to other ships. Boaters are advised to maintain a 100-foot distance between boats and be on the lookout for water skiers traveling behind the boats.
Boats must be equipped with a life jacket for each person, stored in an easily accessible place in case of emergency. Not only is it a life-saving measure, but it helps rescuers find people in an emergency, according to Capt. Tristan Johnson of the Johnston-Grimes Metropolitan Fire Department.
“The first thing to be safe in the water is to wear a life jacket,” Johnson said. “If people are wearing a life jacket, there’s a better chance we can find them. If not, it becomes much more difficult.”
Plus:Want to get tested for COVID-19 before the 4th of July celebrations? Here’s where to get take-home rapid tests in Iowa
It’s important for boaters to have a phone in case of emergencies, Johnson said, and to be aware of where they are on the lake or river.
“A lot of times people call and they don’t know where they are and it takes us a long time to find them,” Johnson said. “Right now, there aren’t a lot of boats, but when there are, it becomes a lot more difficult. So keep a plan and a way to call if something happens.”
And just like driving, stay sober or get pulled over. In 2011, Iowa reduced blood alcohol level to navigate while intoxicated from .10 to .08, the same as driving a vehicle while intoxicated, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“Alcohol slows down your reaction time and reduces your ability to see other boats,” Stocker said. “And what people don’t realize is that, unlike when you’re driving a car, wind, sun and environmental elements play a factor and increase the effects of alcohol. So leave alcohol at home.”
Water patrol will be in full force this weekend to ensure boaters stay safe as they celebrate the holidays.
For Iowans planning to celebrate the 4th of July with a few drinks, law enforcement agencies have a message: stay off the roads.
“If you choose to drink, don’t drive. We try to emphasize that,” Dinkla said. “Find that sober driver, find that designated driver. Ultimately, we want you to be safe while you’re heading to and from your destination and we don’t want you to be a hazard or create additional accidents or fatalities that we’re seeing on our roads.”
Law enforcement agencies from across the state will participate in the national campaign Drive sober or get pulled over campaign from July 2 to 5, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
Drinking and driving is not the only safety problem on the roads. Of the 147 people who have died on Iowa’s roads so far this year, 48% of those people were not wearing seat belts, according to Dinkla.
“We can’t stress that enough,” Dinkla said. “That 48%, if they had been wearing a seat belt, there’s a greater chance that they wouldn’t have been killed or even injured in an accident.”
The Iowa State Patrol has also seen an increase in what they call “egregious” speeds: drivers traveling over 100 miles per hour. The pandemic seemed to exacerbate the problem, as people felt comfortable traveling faster when there were fewer cars on the road, according to Dinkla.
“The dangers go up and the ability to survive a crash goes down a lot when you’re traveling at that kind of speed,” Dinkla said. “So we can’t stress enough, obey the speed limit, wear your seat belt and find the designated driver.”
Iowans heading to nearby Lake Saylorville to celebrate the Fourth of July should leave their fireworks at home, federal officials say.
“Saylorville Reservoir is federal property, and explosives, fireworks and things like that are not allowed on federal property,” said Greg Hand, a park ranger with the US Army Corps of Engineers. “So anywhere in our day use campgrounds and things like that, parking lots, boat ramps, anywhere around the property, you can’t own fireworks, and we’d like people to be aware of that.”
In the most recent data available, the Iowa Department of Public Health registered 167 cases of fireworks-related injuries resulting in emergency department visits in 2020. In 2019, 127 fireworks-related emergency department visits were reported, down slightly from 143 in 2018 and 159 in 2017, the year Iowa’s long-standing retail ban on fireworks was lifted.
Plus:Setting off fireworks for the 4th of July? Here are some tips to stay safe.
Still, these numbers were dramatically higher than reported fireworks-related emergency room visits from 2009 to 2016, which remained in the double digits and ranged from 38 to 86 incidents each year.
“It’s something we take very seriously,” Hand said. “Nobody wants to go to court and get a summons or anything like that. And it’s also a safety issue. Fireworks are very dangerous. It’s going to be a busy weekend, so if we can just put the fireworks down at home, it would be Be nice.”
Fireworks aside, spending a lot of time outdoors can pose risks as Iowa temperatures hover around 90 degrees.
“Always drink a lot of water,” said Angie Jansen, a conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “I know people like to go out on the water and have drinks and things like that, but make sure they’re drinking a lot of water.
“When you’re outside and the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, you get dehydrated much faster,” Jensen said.
Grace Altenhofen is a news reporter for the Des Moines Register. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gracealtenhofen.
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