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Pedestrian fatalities increase on Halloween, study suggests

Oct 30, 2018

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A significant increase in child pedestrian fatalities occurs on Halloween, according to new research from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of British Columbia (UBC), published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

"'Trick-or-treating' has always been an exciting part of Halloween," said researcher Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a physician at Sunnybrook. "We wondered if the combination of dark costumes, face masks, and outdoor activity made the streets dangerous for pedestrians. In addition, busy parents often rush home to help organize events.”

Along with UBC assistant professor of medicine, Dr. John Staples, and UBC undergraduate student Candace Yip, Dr. Redelmeier examined 42 years of all fatal traffic crashes in the United States between 1975 and 2016. The study compared the number of pedestrian fatalities between 5:00 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. on October 31st with the number during the same hours on control days one week earlier and one week later.

The study found that Halloween was associated with a 43 percent increase in the risk of a pedestrian fatality. For children under 18 years of age, the risk was 10 times higher on Halloween than normal and resulted in four additional pedestrian deaths. The increase in risk was twice as high for boys than girls and occurred throughout the United States. The most dangerous time was around 6:00 p.m.

"Our findings suggest there are opportunities to improve pedestrian safety on Halloween," says Dr. Staples. "And they also highlight ways that traffic safety might be improved on the other days too. Residential traffic calming, vehicle speed control, roadway enforcement, and incorporating reflective patches into outerwear might improve pedestrian safety on Halloween and throughout the year."

"Halloween should be fun and safe," says Dr. Redelmeier. "Make sure children are supervised while trick-or-treating. Talk to your kids about crossing the street safely. Slow down when driving in neighborhoods. Don't drink and drive; instead, take public transit or a car-share if you consume alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs. Consider working with your neighborhood association to make some areas traffic-free for Halloween."

Traffic leads to over 4,500 pedestrian deaths in the United States every year. Almost all these deaths can be avoided by a small change in behavior.

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