An average of almost 30 pedestrians annually are killed each October 31, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records. That's almost triple the number of pedestrian fatalities that happen on the average day on American roads.
The agency doesn't track exactly how many of those fatalities are children struck while trick-or-treating, but tragically, the one-day increase does correlate with a day that kids are out enjoying themselves, and probably paying more attention to their candy haul than crosswalks.
"Especially for little kids, someone needs to be paying attention to them," said Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving conditions for pedestrians in Massachusetts. "Make sure they're not so excited they don't just run out across the street."
Motorists need to be especially vigilant between 4 p.m. and midnight, when pedestrians are typically most vulnerable and also when most children are trick or treating, says the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Yet deaths don't only occur in the afternoons. Last year, Elijah Rivers, a 7-year-old boy from Tulsa, Okla., was struck and killed while walking to catch a school bus while wearing his Halloween costume just before 7 a.m.
Overall, Halloween ranks as the third-deadliest day overall for pedestrians, according to the NHTSA analysis, which examined a quarter-century's worth of data to determine the most dangerous days. The study found 715 pedestrian deaths that occurred on Oct. 31 between 1978 and 2002. Halloween trails only December 23 (753 deaths) and January 1 (751 deaths) for the dubious title of most dangerous day on the calendar.
Parents may have even more reason to be concerned this year. Pedestrian deaths are on the rise. Approximately 4,280 were killed in 2010, the latest year for which data is available. That's a 4 percent increase from the 4,109 killed in 2009.
And once Halloween is over, they shouldn't breathe much easier. Although the one-day spike falls, there are typically more pedestrians killed in the fall and winter months than any other time of year. The ten deadliest days in the NHTSA study all fell between October and January. Roads are darker during prime commuting hours and often, snow and ice force pedestrians into walking in the street, says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies.
While it's certainly a day for kids and parents to exercise caution, it's also one to have fun.
"For pedestrians, it's the best pedestrian holiday," Landman said. "It's a holiday all about walking, so it's a pretty great holiday. A lot of communities do special traffic-safety measures, so you can pick some neighborhoods where those are in place and where people are more aware."
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has a couple of safety tips for both trick-or-treaters and drivers. They're specifically for Halloween, but they're also effective for other days as well:
For trick or treaters:
- Stick together. AAA recommends parents accompany trick-or-treaters until the age of 12. And groups of children are easier for motorists to spot than lone children.
- Cross at the crosswalk. Remind children never to cross the road mid-block or between parked cars. Studies show nearly three-quarters of pedestrian deaths occur at places other than the crosswalk.
- Check costumes. Make sure masks don't obstruct your child's vision, adjust the length of costumes to avoid tripping and add reflective materials or tape to make kids visible. Don't wear costumes that are all dark.
- Avoid shortcuts through neighborhoods: If possible, avoid driving through residential streets where it's likely there will be lots of trick-or-treaters present.
- Be extra carefu: Watch for children on darker streets, medians and curbs. Excited trick-or-treaters may not pay necessary attention to traffic and cross the road in unexpected places.
- Right-side exit: Driving your children around on Halloween? Make sure they exit and enter the car on the passenger side of the vehicle.
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.