Baltimore County Now
by Elise Armacost
Director, Public Safety Office of Media & Communications
Remember the old urban legends about Halloween? The tainted candy and razor blade-stuffed apples, the creepy neighbor waiting – like the horrible “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” child catcher – to snatch up unsuspecting trick-or-treaters and spirit them to some evil place?
Those fears are the stuff of nightmares – but not necessarily of reality.
Yes, our police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel do advise you to check your kids’ Halloween treat bags for goodies that don’t look quite right; if it’s unwrapped, throw it out, if only because you don’t want anybody eating M&Ms that somebody else has touched with their bare hands.
And yes, children should be taught not to go inside strangers’ houses or cars, to look for the porch lights and familiar faces and trick-or-treat there.
But public safety officials agree that parents should not let worries about candy tampering and abduction by strangers stop them and their children from enjoying Halloween. These kinds of incidents are rare.
What you should worry about is something much more commonplace: Traffic.
Children walking in the dark – masked and costumed – in the early evening, when the roads still are busy, is a recipe for accidents.
A 2008 study of by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that Halloween is the second-deadliest day of the year for pedestrians of all ages (behind New Year’s Day). For kids, Halloween may be the deadliest day of the year; the non-profit Safe Kids USA, a network of organizations dedicated to protecting children from accidental injury, reports that twice as many children are killed in pedestrian accidents on Halloween than on any other day.
Here are a few tips from the Police Department’s traffic experts on how to minimize the risks of pedestrian accidents on Halloween:
- Though it sounds obvious, this rule bears repeating: Don’t let younger children trick or treat alone; an adult must go with them. Older children and teens should travel in groups.
- Use flashlights. The biggest problem on Halloween is that trick-or-treaters are difficult to see in the dark. Reflective vests or strips are a great idea, but let’s face it: Many kids will balk at wearing them. Make them carry a flashlight.
- If your child wears a mask, make sure they can see out of it. If they’re wearing a long costume, make sure it’s not so long that they’ll trip over it.
- Follow traffic laws. Dashing across streets is risky, especially in the dark. Cross at crosswalks.
- Pay attention to what’s going on. This can be hard for children caught up in the excitement of the evening, but police say it is essential – not just for avoiding traffic accidents but as protection against criminals who see an opportunity to grab an unsuspecting mother’s purse or a trick-or-treater’s bag of candy.
Of course, motorists bear responsibility, too, for avoiding accidents. Drivers know that Halloween is an unusual evening. Whether you’re coming home from work or heading off to a meeting or school event, ratchet down the speed while ratcheting up the attentiveness.
The Baltimore Metropolitan Council’s “Street Smart” pedestrian safety campaign offers a wealth of valuable information about the issue of pedestrian traffic accidents.
Now, in the days leading up to the Halloween holiday is a sensible time to review it – a small investment that will pay off on November 1, when we wake up to find that the nightmares were all pretend.