Have a great Fourth of July weekend, but be smart and be safe

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USFlagWith mostly good weather forecast (the lone concern is a chance of serious thunderstorms Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service) most area residents who haven’t opted to head out of town are likely ready for fun with friends and family over the long holiday weekend.

But — as state and local officials advise — a little bit of caution and common sense can keep the holiday festivities from turning tragic.

First off, although the warm weather is perfect to open up and enjoy a cold adult beverage, don’t combine that with driving. Ever.

“Though Independence Day is a time for celebration, we urge Pennsylvanians to plan ahead and designate a sober driver throughout the holiday weekend,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “Drivers should also avoid aggressive driving behavior and always wear your seat belt so that we all get to our destinations safety and spend time with family and friends.”

The danger is very real — according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) data, last year there were 330 alcohol-related crashes resulting in 11 fatalities from Friday, June 26, to Sunday, July 5 — a sharp increase over 2014.

Even if you haven’t been using any impairing substances, driving over the holiday weekend can still be hazardous and requires extra care.

“We urge motorists to buckle up and use caution when traveling over the holiday,” said State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker. “Troopers will be on the lookout for traffic violations and impaired drivers, so please obey the speed limit and don’t get behind the wheel impaired. To ensure motorists get to their destinations safely, remember to keep distractions to a minimum while driving.”

As part of this high-visibility impaired-driving enforcement effort, the State Police and local law enforcement will conduct checkpoints and roving patrols. This effort is funded through PennDOT’s statewide distribution of more than $4.7 million in federal funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Even if you’re staying home, there’s still hazards uniquely related to the holiday that can turn tragic fast, officials say.

“Every year, what should be a time to honor America with family and friends turns tragic somewhere,” said State Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay. “Following common-sense safety guidelines can prevent these tragedies and help you create lasting happy memories.”

State law allows consumers to use only small “novelty” fireworks, such as sparklers and trick noise makers. These fireworks can be sold by retail establishments with valid permits. If you can’t buy it in state, it’s not legal to use in Pennsylvania.

Even the legal fireworks can be dangerous if used carelessly or by unsupervised minors. Make sure you have water on hand, safety goggles and obviously, only use them outside away from trees, structures and vehicles.

Grilling, another holiday pastime, should be done with common sense — again, outdoors in well ventilated areas.

The message is simple: be smart and be safe.

From all of us at The Times, have a great Fourth of July weekend.

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