For US children aged between four and eight the risk of being hit by a car on Halloween increases 10-fold, compared to the preceding and following weeks, analysis has found.
Canadian researchers led by John Staples from the University of British Columbia looked at US traffic fatality figures from 1975 to 2016, zeroing in pedestrian deaths on Halloween – October 31 – compared to October 24 and November 7.
Over all, there were 608 Halloween pedestrian fatalities through the 42-year period, compared to 426 – 851 in total – on the two control dates. This equates to a 43% spike.
In the sub-category of young children, however, the relative risk of death skyrockets, jumping by an order of magnitude.
Staples and his colleagues suggest some reasons for the jump: “celebrations occur at dusk, masks restrict peripheral vision, costumes limit visibility, [and] street-crossing safety is neglected”. Also, some adults indulging in Halloween festivities may be affected by alcohol, adding extra risks for any children nearby.
The researchers say the figures highlight deficiencies in a number of areas, ranging from urban design to traffic management policies.
“Event-specific interventions that may prevent Halloween child pedestrian fatalities include traffic calming and automated speed enforcement in residential neighbourhoods,” they write in a letter published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“Pedestrian visibility could be improved by limiting on-street parking and incorporating reflective patches into clothing.”
This type of measure, however, they add, rather misses the point. “Year-round application of effective traffic safety interventions will foster much greater progress toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities altogether,” they note.
Being hit by a car is the most common danger for children associated with Halloween, but certainly not the only one.
In previous years there have been horrific stories of young people hospitalised after eating candy containing sewing needles. Less serious – although at the time, perhaps, no less distressing – incidents have included eyes injured after being hit by flying eggs, and diarrhoea arising from consuming adulterated Gummi bears.
In 2013, physicians Nathan Grills and Gillian Porter writing in the Medical Journal of Australia warned that the excessive consumption of sweets and candy on October 31 should be regarded as a genuine public health risk.
The promotion of sugary treats, they suggested, “to children already at high risk of obesity is a valid concern”.
“Regulation is needed to prevent the confectionery industry using cultural events to advertise unhealthy commodities to children,” they concluded.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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