It is a rite of spring in Alberta to hit the road on the May long weekend to blow off a winter’s worth of steam. Many local people have already started packing up their cars and RVs ready to hit the road.
But as you get ready to hit the wilderness areas be aware that danger lurks. The May long weekend can be a deadly weekend for traffic deaths or accidental deaths, many of them fuelled by alcohol.
It is standard before a long weekend for RCMP to warn people to slow down, wear your seatbelt, and don’t take unnecessary risks. In 2016 four people died in traffic collisions in the capital region over the Victoria Day weekend. Deaths from drowning, off highway vehicle (OHV) use and other accidents often ramp up on long weekends.
On Thursday, Students Against Drinking and Driving Alberta and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Control Board will unveil liquor bags with the message “Don’t mix cheers and gears.” The one million bags will be distributed to liquor stores throughout the province starting this May long weekend to drive home the message.
If you plan to operate anything – OHVs, vehicles, boats or canoes – stay away from alcohol. It’s a leading factor in accidental deaths.
Speaking of OHV use, if you plan to drive yours on public land you had better be wearing a helmet this weekend. New provincial rules took effect this week. Besides risking head injury or death, those who break the law risk a $155 fine.
In 2015 the Alberta Injury Prevention Centre reported more than half of people killed on OHVs had been drinking and most were legally impaired. Whether involving alcohol or not, the centre reports that most accidental deaths occur in the months of May, June and July.
But helmets are not a panacea. Helmets offer no protection against excessive speed or the weight of the OHV in a rollover.
Campers should also check to see whether fire bans are in effect. But even if fires are allowed make sure to extinguish all smoking materials. It only takes one ember to be picked up by the wind to start a fire. No one wants to be responsible for a forest fire. Alberta has introduced a new fine of $287 for leaving a campfire unattended. Anyone who starts a wildfire can be fined $100,000.
This weekend police, fish and wildlife officers, conservation officers and park rangers will be out in full force to enforce the rules designed to keep everyone safe and to protect our parkland. They will be ready to ticket any offenders.
Have a fun weekend, but be careful out there. Your family, your community, your wilderness areas are counting on you to do the right thing. Come back home safely. Leave nature like you found it, unspoiled.