Halloween raises risk of child pedestrian deaths: study
Pedestrians have a 43 per cent higher risk of being fatally struck by a vehicle on Halloween than a regular autumn night, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.
The highest risk increase was among children, the study found. In fact, children aged four to eight were 10 times more likely to be killed by vehicles on Oct. 31 than they would be on another night. The average Halloween resulted in four additional pedestrian deaths every year with almost all the victims being children or young adults.
In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca, lead researcher Dr. John Staples said the findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics Tuesday, were "pretty dramatic."
"We wondered what influence (adult Halloween parties) could have on pedestrian fatalities given that there are a lot of kids out on the same evening, the sun setting earlier this time of year and kids often dressing in dark clothes," he said.
The findings suggest those things definitely make streets more dangerous for pedestrians, according to the clinical assistant professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine.
Researchers looked at data from 1975 to 2016 and compared the risk of pedestrian deaths on Halloween to control days one week before and one week after. Staples’ team examined all fatal traffic crashes in the United States based on 42 years’ worth of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
They specifically looked at the number of pedestrian deaths between 5 p.m. and midnight on Halloween and the control days -- the most dangerous times were between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Staples added that people aged nine to 12, 13 to 17 and 30 to 49 all saw an increased risk of being killed by car on Halloween.
Advice for trick-or-treaters
On Halloween, Staples suggested children wear reflective patches on clothing and cross the street in well-lit, marked areas. He also urged drivers to slow down in residential neighbourhoods and avoid drinking alcohol or consuming cannabis or other drugs.
Researchers also suggest parents talk to children about street-crossing safety and recommend that younger children are always supervised while trick-or-treating.
"We have an interest in traffic injuries and we know that about 15 per cent of all traffic deaths are pedestrians," he said. "We saw this as an opportunity to both examine Halloween and the larger problem of pedestrian fatalities."
Pedestrian deaths could be further avoided
Longer term, they recommended making trick-or-treating areas more like car-free zones and for city officials to add additional speed bumps and red-light cameras which are known to cut down on pedestrian deaths.
Candace Yip, study co-investigator and UBC undergraduate science student, said pedestrian safety could be heightened throughout the year.
"Our findings suggest there are opportunities to improve pedestrian safety on Halloween, but they also highlight ways that traffic safety might be improved on the other 364 days of the year," she said in a press release.
Despite the number of pedestrian fatalities in North America decreasing in the past several decades, 1,898 of Canadian pedestrians were killed by vehicles in 2016, according to OECD’s 2018 International Transport Forum.
In the U.S., 4,500 pedestrians are still killed from vehicles annually, with Yip and Staples’ research finding that in the 1970s, there were 4.9 pedestrian deaths per 100 million while in the 2010s, it was 2.5 per 100 million Americans.
University of Toronto professor and study co-author Dr. Donald Redelmeier explained that "almost all these deaths can be avoided by a small change in behaviour."