What’s not to love about a three-day weekend? There’s the revelry, the relaxation, the brief suspension of time and responsibility. And Labor Day weekend’s got all of that in spades.
But like any holiday, with more people off work and on the road and water, there’s added risk for injury or death.
So take it from the experts on how to stay safe this Labor Day. After all, it’s your day off.
Please, don’t drink and drive
Some good news: Labor Day weekend car deaths have dropped significantly over the past 20 years, from 490 in 1996 to around 345 in 2017, the National Safety Council reports.
The bad news: 345 is still a substantial number of deaths for just one weekend.
At least 36% of Labor Day deaths involved a driver who’d been drinking, the council says, so do the responsible thing and find a sober ride. If you’re that sober ride, be extra aware of reckless drivers.
The Safety Council, a nonprofit public service organization, predicts that about 400 people could die in traffic accidents this weekend. Last year’s numbers were lower than predicted, so officials are hoping for a similar decline this year.
Don’t drink and drive a boat, either
When it comes to drinking and driving a boat, the same rules apply: Just don’t do it. It’s illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated, and you can still get arrested for doing it.
If you absolutely, positively must imbibe on the open water, the Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education recommends designating a sober skipper. They’ll refrain from drinking to safely operate the boat. And you’ll thank them for being a responsible friend.
Whether you’re partying on a dinghy or a yacht, the US Coast Guard requires boat owners to provide enough life jackets for everyone on board. And remember: For the “life-saving” part to work, the jackets must be worn.
Pick a life jacket with a snug fit that doesn’t slide past your ears or chin and pay attention to state laws that require children to wear life jackets.
Wait out lightning storms inside
If the forecasts are any indication, it might rain on your Labor Day weekend parade if you’re celebrating on the East Coast. If there’s lightning, take the festivities inside.
Your chances of being struck by lightning in any given year are one in 1.22 million, but the odds are much higher for your home. About 1 in 200 homes are struck every year, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute. If this happens, don’t touch or unplug electrical equipment plugged into the wall-, the National Weather Service says.
If you hear thunder, measure how far away the storm is before you cancel the pool party. Count the number of seconds that pass between a flash of lightning and the sound of thunder, divide it by 5, and you’ll know how many miles away the lightning is. If 15 seconds pass, it’s 5 miles away. If 1 second passes, it’s probably in your backyard. That’s official advice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not just a trick you learned in school, so you can safely follow it.
Swim safe and wear sunscreen
Even if you’re an Olympic swimmer, don’t swim alone. The Red Cross advises swimmers to only venture into water when there’s a lifeguard onshore.
Watch out for rip currents. The fast-moving channels of water pop up along every coast in the US, including the shores of the Great Lakes, NOAA says. Lifeguards usually display warning flags on beaches to alert swimmers if there are hazardous conditions, so if you see one, stay on shore.
If you get caught in a rip current, swim with it, not against it. People who fight the current often end up fatigued, which heightens their drowning risk, NOAA says.
Nothing smarts quite like a sunburn, so use an ocean-friendly sunscreen that’ll save your skin and protect the creatures in the water. Better yet, wear lightweight clothing, hats and sunglasses that shield your skin from the sun — doctors say those offer stronger protection than sunscreen.