WASHINGTON - When you think of Fourth of July hazards, you might think of accidents caused by backyard fireworks, but Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, says drunken driving is another serious threat.
"There's actually a greater chance of being impacted by a drunk driver on the Fourth of July than there is on St. Patrick's Day," Erickson said.
He says 37 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide on St. Patrick's Day are caused by drunken drivers, but the number jumps to 40 percent during Independence Day in the U.S.
Erickson says planning ahead is the key to a safe holiday. He recommends picking a designated driver if you're going out and a "designated bartender" if you're having a party.
"You've heard of designating a driver? Well, designate a 'bartender.' Don't let guests mix their own drinks," said Erickson, who added that the bartender should cut off the alcoholic drinks at least an hour before the party ends.
If someone needs a safe ride home, Erickson says to call SoberRide, the free cab service offered throughout the D.C. region. SoberRide operates in D.C., Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, as well as in Arlington, Fairfax, (eastern) Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia.
To reach SoberRide, call 1-800-200 TAXI. There are restrictions: you must be 21 and older and the ride is free for up to $30 dollars. Anything over that amount must be covered by the passenger.
If you're on the roads and spot what looks like drunken driving — a driver weaving in and out of a lane or driving erratically — Erickson says to report it. Call 911 in Maryland and D.C. and hit #77 in Virginia to contact police about it.
Wearing a seat belt is the single best way to reduce your chances of becoming a fatality on the roads, Erickson said.
"If you do anything this Independence Day, buckle up," he said.
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