Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why are there So Many Freak Accidents on Independence Day?

A quick flip through the news from this weekend reveals the following:

This is hardly a comprehensive list of the destruction that occurred during holiday celebrations, and doesn't include the many car accidents all over the country.  Why is July 4th so dangerous?

The short answer is that Independence Day is not inherently dangerous, any more than Easter or Flag Day or Arbor Day or, for that matter, next Tuesday.  There is no mystical force at work causing mayhem on the 4th of July, and chances are that in other countries there are no more problems on July 4th than on any other day.  We are, however, more likely to associate accidental deaths on the holiday with the holiday, rather than with the fact that a certain number of accidents happen every day. 

In addition, the way Americans choose to commemorate the holiday contributes to a spike in accidents.  There are a number of factors that make July 4th the perfect day to have something unusual happen, and lend themselves to certain types of problems that aren't as common on other days.

Factor #1:  Crowds

We tend to pay more attention to incidents that involve large numbers of people.  Not surprisingly, this type of incident can only happen when there are large numbers of people together.  Parades, fireworks and other large celebrations draw big groups of people, increasing the chances that an accident that affects more than one or two people will happen.  Crowds of people are also heavy, increasing the number of accidents caused by whatever they are standing on collapsing.

Factor #2:  Explosives

Things that explode are inherently dangerous.  People who work with things that explode are more likely to be injured.  People who don't know what they are doing with things that explode are particularly at risk.  On July 4, our tradition of fireworks lends itself to accidents, particularly among amateurs.

Factor #3:  Nice Weather and a Day Off

Summer weather and a day off from work means that people are taking part in recreation activities that are not as common other times, such as jet skiing, boating and hang gliding.  The more people there are doing these things, the more chances there are for an accident.  Looking at it another way, you will note that boating accidents are relatively unusual on Christmas, and skating accidents are rare on July 4.

Factor #4:  Alcohol

People drink on the 4th of July, and anything that can go wrong is more likely to go wrong when alcohol is involved.

Factor #5:  Children

This is a family holiday, and we encourage children to participate in a big way.  Any accident involving a child gets our attention, and the more kids there are out and about, particularly around fireworks, boats, crowds and adults drinking alcohol, the more chances a kid will be hurt.

So, what should you do on July 4th?  Does it make sense to stay home and hide?  That depends on what you mean by sense.  Staying home and hiding is often, but not always, the safest thing to do.  It also greatly reduces your quality of life.  We all choose to do things that are riskier than that.  On July 4th, we all choose to do them all at once.  A little common sense about fireworks, keeping an eye on the kids and keeping alcohol consumption down could go a long way to keeping everyone safe.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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