It’s almost Halloween, which means that law enforcement agencies around the country are warning parents about the possibility of finding marijuana candy in their children’s trick-or-treat buckets.
But like poison and razor blades, Halloween pot candy is largely a myth. The real threat to kids on Oct. 31 is much more mundane: traffic. Children are three times more likely to be struck and killed by a car on the holiday than any other day of the year, according to the latest federal highway safety data.
A Washington Post analysis found that 54 pedestrians younger than 18 were struck and killed by an automobile on Halloween from 2004 through 2018. That compares with 16 on a typical day.
In absolute terms, the likelihood of a child being killed by a car on Halloween is still extremely low, given the hundreds of millions of trick-or-treaters who went out during the time period analyzed. But the holiday nonetheless stands out sharply when charted against every other day.
Roads have also become more dangerous for pedestrians in the past decade. In fact, more pedestrians and cyclists were fatally struck by cars in 2018 than any other year since 1990, federal highway authorities recently warned. Adjusting for total vehicle miles traveled, the rate of pedestrian fatalities has increased by 33 percent since 2009. Pedestrians now account for 17 percent of all traffic deaths.
Experts say these numbers are influenced, in part, by the growing number of people biking and walking to work, as well as deficiencies in public policy and city planning. For decades, roadways have been designed with driver safety in mind, rather than walkers or cyclists.
Those safety deficiencies are most obvious on Halloween, a day when millions of additional pedestrians take to the streets during the twilight hours, historically the most dangerous time of day for pedestrians. The majority of those trick-or-treaters are children, the smallest of whom can be harder for drivers to spot from the windows of SUVs.
A study released earlier this year in JAMA Pediatrics 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.
While Halloween safety tips tend to focus on the behavior of individual trick-or-treaters, the authors of the JAMA Pediatrics study emphasize instead the importance of better highway policy and construction. Halloween pedestrian deaths “highlight deficiencies of the built environment (e.g., lack of sidewalks, unsafe street crossings), shortcomings in public policy (e.g., insufficient space for play), and failures in traffic control (e.g., excessive speed),” they write.
Rather than focus on Halloween-specific safety recommendations, such as the use of reflective tape on costumes, the researchers write that “year-round application of effective traffic safety interventions will foster much greater progress toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities altogether.”