Troopers stress safe driving and boating during holiday

There has not been a fatality on Oklahoma's lakes during the Labor Day holiday weekend since the year 2000 and officials would like to see this trend continue.

"We have been very fortunate the past couple of years during the last big holiday of the summer," said First Lieutenant Stanley Roberts, highway patrol commander of Troop W. "There has, however, been a total of nine boating accidents with four injuries since 2000 but even these numbers are lower than past recent years."

Roberts said with thousands of lake enthusiasts going to Oklahoma's lakes during the annual holiday, they encourage everyone to abide by the state's boating laws and to equip their vessels in accordance.

"Boating and recreational activities are very popular in our state with the high number of lakes and shoreline," said Roberts. "It is our job to educate Oklahoma's boaters and to make ourselves available to the public through high visibility and regular lake patrol."

There are several requirements boaters must meet before they are considered not only legal but safe as well, according to Roberts.

"Everyone aboard a vessel must have a life jacket of the proper size and type," said Roberts. "Children 12 and under must wear them at all times the vessel is underway. A whistle, horn or bell is required and running lights after sunset and before sunrise."

Oklahoma state law requires a red and green combination running light on the bow of the boat, red on the port or right side and a green light on the starboard, left side. A white aft light - affixed to the back of the boat - is required and must be visible 360 degrees. It is illegal to operate a vessel while intoxicated, and a vessel that is operated with a gas-powered motor must have a fire extinguisher.

"Anyone can approach a trooper on lake patrol and request a boat inspection for their vessel," said Roberts. "The process doesn't take very long, and you will receive a sticker to show it has been inspected.

"Be aware that drinking alcohol impairs your judgment, and we discourage operating a boat when you've been drinking. Just as a vehicle, your boat should be operated in a manner reasonable and proper."

Roberts warned that with the lack of rain creating lower water levels, boaters need to be particularly aware of their surroundings and the increased potential of submerged objects in the water that can cause property damage and even personal injury.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol's traffic fatalities from last year's holiday didn't compare with the nonexistent water-related numbers.

"We weren't as fortunate when it came to traffic deaths," said Captain Mike Grimes. "There were a total of 13 last year. That's an increase of five from 2001; the highest count since 1997 when the total was 15, an 11-year high."

Of the 13 deaths, one was a motorcyclist, one a pedestrian and one was on an all-terrain vehicle. The remaining 10 victims were killed in vehicle crashes, four of whom were not wearing safety belts. More than half of the 13 total deaths were alcohol-related.

"It is unlawful to drink and drive, and the results are always tragic," said Grimes. "Troopers will be out in full force during the holiday weekend and will exercise zero tolerance of intoxicated drivers."

Oklahoma's troopers will be participating in the nationwide traffic safety campaign called Combined Accident Reduction Effort that targets drinking and driving, speeders and those not wearing safety belts.