July 4 is the day we celebrate America’s birthday with backyard barbecues, trips to the country and glorious fireworks displays.
But hidden danger lurks behind all the fun. More people are killed on the nation’s roads on July 4 than on any other day, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute.
In addition, thousands of Americans are hurt when lighting fireworks, or injured in accidents around the grill.
Fortunately, a little caution can go a long way in preventing mishaps, says Becky Turpin, director of home and community safety at the National Safety Council.
“The Fourth of July is one of our country’s most cherished holidays,” she says. “A few small steps can help ensure that no one gets hurt.”
Here are four things you can do to keep July 4 safe.
1. Driving: Slow down
The excitement of a July Fourth outing can cause people to rush to get to the fun. But such impatience leads to accidents.
“Everyone deserves to get to their destination safely,” Turpin says.
To make sure that happens, slow down and try to keep your focus on the road, rather than distractions around you.
“Freeways become packed with travelers, and more drivers are impaired,” Turpin says. “This presents a clear danger to all motorists and those sharing the roadway with them.“
If you are planning to drink, make sure somebody in your group volunteers to be a sober driver.
“If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, ask guests who plan to drink to arrange alternative transportation or to stay overnight,” Turpin says.
2. Grilling: Keep it clean
A barbecue is a Fourth of July tradition for many households. But July is the peak month for grill fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“One in five grill fires occurs because the grill was dirty,” says Turpin, citing NFPA statistics.
To keep the grill clean, wipe it down and scrape it off after every use. Also, position the grill far away from the house, garage or any other structure that could catch a spark.
“Keep your children away from grills and hot surfaces,” Turpin says. She also suggests becoming certified in first aid and CPR techniques in case you need to treat a burn or respond to a choking incident.
3. Food: Keep it cool and clean
Temperatures typically soar on July 4 in many parts of the country. So, if you are going to have food outdoors, make sure to keep perishables cool so you do not get sick.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that you keep cold foods in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Make sure the temperature is no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit inside the cooler.
Also, limit the number of times you open the cooler. To encourage this, make sure you have a separate cooler designated for drinks only.
Keep raw meats separate from other foods. Rinse produce before packing it in a cooler. And always wash your hands before and after preparing foods.
4. Fireworks: Leave it to the pros
Yes, it is tempting to create your own at-home fireworks display. That is especially true if you have children and want to create a little July 4 magic for them.
“Fireworks are synonymous with the Fourth of July and we see them as patriotic,” Turpin says.
But each year, fireworks injure thousands of Americans. For example, 11,000 people were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to fireworks in 2016, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Four people were killed.
“Fireworks are beautiful, but they should always be left to the professionals,” Turpin says. “Enjoy them from a safe distance.”