Lorraine Explains: Halloween traffic is deadly for kids

Halloween is one of the deadliest traffic days of the year for children. You can read all kinds of tips about ways to keep your little ones safe — including some here — but the bottom line is that drivers need to go above and beyond to protect the kids.

If you have children in the house, chances are good they’re vibrating with excitement about Halloween. The Retail Council of Canada reports that about 80 per cent of Canadian families celebrate Halloween, making it a commercial blockbuster for those selling costumes, candy, decorations, and pumpkins. A glimpse of any store or online site that can possibly snag a part of the reported $1.6 billion dollars that will be spent this year can attest to the dominance of the holiday.

Parents also know the inherent dangers that come with energized kids streaming out into the night, rules and safety protocols often suspended in the magic of a night like no other. You’re not imagining it — your kids are more at risk from Halloween traffic than any urban myth about tainted candy.

A study released in 2019 by JAMA Pediatrics using statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that the risk of death as a pedestrian on Halloween was 43 per cent higher than events on control evenings — one week prior and one week post.

“Halloween trick-or-treating encourages creativity, physical activity, and neighbourhood engagement. Trick-or-treating should not be abolished in a misguided effort to eliminate Halloween-associated risk. Instead, policymakers, physicians, and parents should act to make residential streets safer for pedestrians on Halloween and throughout the year,” concludes the study. Kids deserve this night, and they deserve to be safe.

The work was funded and supported by the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Canada Research Chair in Medical Decision Science. The lead author was from the University of British Columbia who used the more thorough American statistics to allow a far deeper dive into the study. They looked at 42 years’ worth of statistics and focused on the 5 p.m. to midnight time frame.

While pedestrians of all ages were considered, the study found that “children ages 4 to 8 were about 10 times more likely to be killed in the evening on Halloween than they were during other autumn evenings. The study found that the 6 p.m. hour — a confluence of rush hour and sunset in many parts of the country — was the deadliest time for trick-or-treaters to be on the road.”  The most dangerous place on the road: in the middle of a block.

Last year in British Columbia, ICBC reported there were 640 crashes resulting in 240 injuries on Halloween. Most statistics aren’t broken out to highlight a certain day, but Halloween remains a North American danger zone — especially for kids. There is an increased risk of adults who are also celebrating the holiday with bumps in impaired charges, but for little ones on foot, parents are tasked with meeting their unbridled enthusiasm with the ultimate in parental party-pooping.

Obligatory warnings for parents

Pick costumes wisely. Don’t have anything that drags or could be snared or tripped over. Pick makeup over masks, which reduce your little one’s ability to see clearly. Wrap glowsticks around wrists or slap reflective tape wherever you can. Try and make a headlamp part of their costume (sort of not kidding).

Go with them. Rules will be flung to the wind if nobody is enforcing them. Kids aged 12-15 are (unsurprisingly) at high risk. This is a tough one, admittedly, for parents. Stress how dangerous a night it is for traffic, get them to go in pairs or a group, and remind them to cross with lights.

Adults, avoid crossing in the middle of the block. Just, no. If you do it, they’ll think it’s okay for them to do it. Be the example.

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Trunk-or-treat was a popular Halloween alternative in 2021 Photo by Getty

More important requests for drivers

There’s only so much children can do. Most of this falls to drivers, and we haven’t done a very good job of making drivers accountable for the damage they cause at the best of times; Halloween is not the best of times.

Walk with your kids. Parents who troll along in an idling car are adding to the problem. Apart from children who have mobility issues, there is no reason for you to be driving on a street filled with little ones at risk.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. Not just on quiet residential streets, but on arterial roads, too. Children trick-or-treat where they live. Regardless of the posted speed limit, Halloween is the night you should be on high alert for children who are on high energy. Give them this.

Ditch your phone. Turn off distractions inside your car. Don’t let your eyes leave the road, and have extra patience at intersections. Be incredibly diligent if bad weather is reducing your vision.

If the vehicle you drive is so big you’re already aware of too many blind spots, leave it at home.

If you don’t have to be out during trick-or-treating hours, don’t. Let the kids have this one night.

The JAMA study concludes with a reminder that the onus is on drivers on this night.  “Halloween traffic fatalities are a tragic annual reminder of routine gaps in traffic safety. On Halloween and throughout the year, most childhood pedestrian deaths occur within residential neighbourhoods. Such events highlight deficiencies of the built environment (eg, lack of sidewalks, unsafe street crossings), shortcomings in public policy (eg, insufficient space for play), and failures in traffic control (eg, excessive speed).”

We owe our kids a safe night.

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