October 30, 2018 / 3:29 PM / 20 days ago

Trick-or-treating kids at increased risk of traffic fatality

(Reuters Health) - Traffic fatalities spike among children who are trick-or-treating on Halloween, particularly among kids ages four to eight, a new study shows.

“There are things we can do to make things safer for kids and other pedestrians,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. John Staples of the University of British Columbia. “That includes attaching reflective patches to children’s costumes, having kids carry lights, supervising kids and talking to kids about traffic safety and how to cross a street.”

Staples and colleagues examined 42 years of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. For each year, they looked at pedestrian deaths between 5:00 PM and 11:59 PM on Halloween night plus nights one week before and one week after.

A total of 608 fatalities occurred on the 42 Halloween evenings, while a total of 851 occurred on the combined 84 evenings of October 24 and November 7, the researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

Put another way, that meant 2.07 pedestrians died per hour on Halloween evenings versus 1.45 per hour on the comparison evenings. Overall, pedestrians were 43 percent more likely to die on Halloween than on the control evenings.

When the researchers looked at fatalities by age, pedestrians aged four to eight were 10 times as likely to be killed on Halloween as on October 24 or November 7.

The solution, Staples said, is for parents and communities to find ways to make walking in the evening safer.

“There are things that can be done in neighborhoods that affect traffic and flow,” he said. “For example, traffic circles or speed bumps can be added. These can help slow down traffic. There are things that can be done to enforce the speed limit, such as installing red-light cameras.”

Communities can also make sure there are safe places for pedestrians to walk, Staples said.

The good news is that between the first and last decade studied, overall pedestrian deaths declined from 4.9 to 2.5 per 100 million Americans, Staples noted. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to make Halloween night safer for kids, he added.

The new article “is very straightforward and compelling,” said David Hemenway, director of the Injury Control Research Center Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “It is of course all explained by the amount of exposure: there are so many kids out on Halloween compared to other nights.”

“The take-home message is that we should always be working on making our streets safer and we should be reminding everyone that kids are going to be out on that night,” said Hemenway, who was not involved in the new research. “It should be on the news that day because someone who doesn’t have kids may have forgotten that it’s Halloween and everybody has to drive much, much, much slower in residential areas. And maybe it means the police should do more, too.”

Andrea Gielen hopes the study will spark changes that make it safer for kids walking in their neighborhoods. “It’s important to remember that even with all the progress we’ve made, injuries are still the leading cause of death in children,” said Gielen, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The best way to improve safety for trick-or-treating kids is to make them more visible to motorists, said Gielen, who was not involved in the new research. “That includes putting reflective, easy to see items on clothing and carrying a flashlight. Another way to improve the visibility of children is to focus on where cars are parked. Kids can slip between parked cars. Things can be improved by not allowing a lot of cars on the street for kids to run between.”

Halloween also offers an opportunity to teach children about traffic safety and how to cross a street safely, Staples said, adding that he’s not suggesting that kids give up trick-or-treating. “The kind of world I want to live in (is) safe for kids to go out and walk around their neighborhood and participate in a holiday that is really focused on kids,” he said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/2O5czYU JAMA Pediatrics, online October 30, 2018.

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