The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 26, 2012

Auto accidents biggest threat during trick-or-treating

From staff, AP reports

JOPLIN, Mo. — Aside from creepy creatures and bloody decorations, Halloween isn’t really all that scary -- except when it comes to traffic safety.

Despite warnings about tainted candy, candle fires and even child abductions, real Halloween headlines are rarely about any of those things. Instead, tragedies related to the holiday typically involve trick-or-treaters hit by cars.

Fortunately, even those accidents are relatively few in number.

“We get a few calls for people walking in the roadway,” said Sgt. Rusty Rives, of the Joplin Police Department. “Given that it’s Halloween, we get a lot of calls from people complaining about parking, line of sight and traffic congestion.”

Over the past three years, Joplin police reported zero accidents during Halloween trick-or-treating. Carthage police reported one in the same period -- but that was for an accident that happened before the celebration.

Despite stories about candy poisoning, kidnapping and fires, data suggests the most common concern for Halloween is car accidents.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, in four out of six years between 2006 and 2010, more pedestrians under the age of 21 were killed by cars on Oct. 31 than on Oct. 30 or Nov. 1.

The numbers are small: A total of 16 deaths took place on Oct. 31 during those five years, compared to 11 on Oct. 30 and 10 on Nov. 1.

Across the nation last year, children and teenagers trick-or-treating or heading to Halloween parties were injured or killed in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Port Bolivar, Texas, Lower Allen Township, Pa., and Colorado Springs, Colo.

Most cases involved pedestrians hit while crossing streets or walking along roads. One case resulted in a drunk-driving arrest. In another case, parents were injured along with their child.

Pedestrian safety is a prime concern for police on Halloween, Rives said.

“That gets the most attention from us,” Rives said. “Officers are still taking patrol calls, but we try to be most proactive in residential neighborhoods.”

One way to increase pedestrian visibility on Halloween: Have kids carry a flashlight or glowstick, or add glow-in-the-dark necklaces or reflective tape to costumes.

Tainted treats

Of course, parents should examine goodies and make sure kids avoid treats that aren’t sealed.

But know this: “There isn’t any case of a child killed or injured from a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick or treating,” said Joel Best, a professor at the University of Delaware, who has extensively researched the subject.

Best says there have been more than 100 reports of tainted treats going back to 1958. That includes a father who poisoned his child to collect insurance money, as well an incident where someone gave out booby-trapped goodies, but nobody was injured. There have also been cases where kids had food allergies.

Kidnapped kids?

Statistically it’s rare for children to be kidnapped by strangers, but it seems like there’s always a case in the news. In the past few weeks, a girl was found murdered in Colorado and another child was abducted, then found, in Wyoming. So it’s understandable that Halloween makes parents nervous, with kids out after dark, sometimes unaccompanied by parents, often approaching strangers to ask for candy.

Obviously parents should keep track of kids -- stay in touch by cellphone with teens, and make sure younger children have adult supervision.

But perhaps this can be reassuring: There is no data to suggest an increase in reports of missing children on Halloween, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Fire fear

Candles are often used for spooky decor and to light pumpkins, so parents should be mindful of kids in billowy costumes nearby.

Still, the fact is, according to John Hall, division director of the National Fire Protection Association, “there is no localized spike in reported fire injuries around Halloween.”

In past years, there has been a phenomenon called “Devil’s Night,” especially in the Detroit area, of arson at abandoned properties. A 2005 report from the U.S. Fire Administration noted that “on Halloween, and the night before, incendiary and suspicious structure fires are about 60 percent more frequent than on an average day.”

But the number of fires has been decreasing, thanks to community and police patrols and other efforts. In 1984, more than 800 fires were started in Detroit during the Halloween period, compared to 169 in 2010 and 94 last year.

Still, be safe

None of those myths mean parents should spend Oct. 31 relaxing. Obviously, parents should always know where their children are. Parents should also watch kids’ candy hauls. Make sure trick-or-treaters can see out of their masks and won’t trip on their costumes, too.

Features Editor Joe Hadsall contributed to this report.