New study finds more kids get killed on Hallowe'en, calls for better roads and traffic calming

were you looking poster
© Walksafe.org

No victim-blaming here; it's all about urban design.

A new study has just been published, Pedestrian Fatalities Associated With Halloween in the United States, that confirms what we have known for years: more people are hit by cars and die on Halloween. The study looked at four decades worth of traffic data "to systematically evaluate pedestrian fatality risks on Halloween and highlight opportunities for year-round injury prevention." They found that "the relative risk of a pedestrian fatality was 43% higher on Halloween compared with control evenings."

John A. Staples, MD of the University of British Columbia and his team found that the highest risk increase was among children aged 4 to 8, with a tenfold increase in fatality risk. Their discussion and conclusions are interesting because they don't blame the kids for not wearing dayglo and not carrying flashlights; they look at the infrastructure.

Halloween traffic fatalities are a tragic annual reminder of routine gaps in traffic safety. On Halloween and throughout the year, most childhood pedestrian deaths occur within residential neighborhoods. Such events highlight deficiencies of the built environment (eg, lack of sidewalks, unsafe street crossings), shortcomings in public policy (eg, insufficient space for play), and failures in traffic control (eg, excessive speed).

how to dress for halloween© Canadian Automobile Association

Really. For years we have complained about how the car people and the truck people want the kids to get all dressed up like construction workers, in reflective vests, carrying giant flashlights, instead of talking to the drivers of cars. Dr. Staples looks at the numbers and comes to a different conclusion.

Event-specific interventions that may prevent Halloween child pedestrian fatalities include traffic calming and automated speed enforcement in residential neighborhoods. Pedestrian visibility could be improved by limiting on-street parking and incorporating reflective patches into clothing. But restricting these interventions to 1 night per year misses the point, since year-round application of effective traffic safety interventions will foster much greater progress toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities altogether.

He concludes that it is a bigger story than just one night.

Halloween trick-or-treating encourages creativity, physical activity, and neighborhood engagement. Trick-or-treating should not be abolished in a misguided effort to eliminate Halloween-associated risk. Instead, policymakers, physicians, and parents should act to make residential streets safer for pedestrians on Halloween and throughout the year.

Bravo. It's not about one night, it is about making cities safer for people who walk all year round. Dr. Staples tells The Verge: “The kind of world I want to live in is one where kids can make that choice and do so safely. The streets should be safe for kids to celebrate a holiday.” But they should also be safe every other day.

pickup truckLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I would also use this opportunity to make the case that it's time to take a serious look at vehicle design, and whether these should be allowed in our cities where it is going to be so hard to see a little kid (I am barely taller than the hood) and where the front of the vehicle is a wall of steel. Instead of dressing the kids up in lights, let's make the vehicles less deadly. Let's Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get rid of them.

Bravo also to the University of Miami and the WalkSafe.org for putting out a very different Halloween poster focused on drivers instead of kids:

New study finds more kids get killed on Hallowe'en, calls for better roads and traffic calming
No victim-blaming here; it's all about urban design.

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