Memorial Day Weekend

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is prepared for the increase in travelers this holiday weekend as they continue their enforcement emphasis of zero tolerance for those not wearing safety belts.

"Oklahomans will flock to state lakes and parks this weekend. We want everyone to wear safety belts," said Second Lieutenant Chris West.

The OHP kicked off a zero tolerance campaign on safety belt enforcement on Monday, May 24, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"We've tried educating the public on the importance of wearing a safety belt, and the numbers are still high reflecting those who don't," said West. "Now it's time for strict enforcement. If you do not wear your safety belt, you will receive a ticket."

During the 1998 Memorial Day weekend, 16 people died on Oklahoma's roads. One was a motorcyclist, and of the 15 that died in vehicle crashes, 14 of them were not wearing safety belts. Four of the fatal crashes were alcohol-related.

"If you drink, don't drive. State parks and lakes will be crowded this weekend. We will certainly be on the lookout for intoxicated drivers," said West.

The Lake Patrol of the Department of Public Safety warns that alcohol and water are a deadly combination.

"Whether you are on the road or on the water, a designated driver makes sense. Alcohol affects people to a greater degree when stressors such as boat noise, water motion, and constant exposure to heat and sunlight are added," said First Lieutenant Bob Sanders, Oklahoma Boating Law Administrator.

Eighty percent of boating fatalities involved operators with no boating safety education.

"Knowing boating laws and navigational rules before you go to the lake can help prevent costly and tragic accidents," said Sanders. "We will have patrolmen available for boat inspections on boat ramps across the state. The inspection process is one way we have a chance to visit one-on-one and answer any questions the boating public may have."

In 1998, 819 people died in recreational boating accidents nationwide. In Oklahoma, there were 106 boating accidents reported, with 72 injuries and 12 fatalities. None of the fatality victims were wearing life jackets.

Every vessel is required to carry one U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable life jacket for each person on board. Life jackets must be in good serviceable condition, fit the person who intends to wear it and be readily accessible. Children 12 years of age or younger are required to wear a life jacket on boats 26 feet or less in length when the vessel is underway.

"Life jackets are like safety belts - they can save your life," said Sanders.