Tainted candy won’t hurt your kids on Halloween. The cars will be.
As usual, millions of children in the United States will be out on the streets this Halloween at trick or treat, dressed in costumes. Also as usual, the adults face each other about the most mythical dangers that children can face. Once upon a time razor blades in apples; this year, it is rainbow fentanyl in candy. But while afraid of children who receive narcotic treatments they are unfoundedThere is a very real danger that America’s children face on this holiest of evenings: cars.
That’s because pedestrians under 18 years old are three times more likely to be hit and killed by a car on Halloween than any other day of the year. That risk increases to 10 times more likely for children from 4 to 8 years, according a study from 2019 in JAMA Pediatrics.
“You have to increase the number of children, including younger children who are off the streets,” he said Lois Lee, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. “At the same time, you have adults driving, and especially this year on Monday, people will drive home from work. If the children are in costume, they can be dressed darker … which makes it more difficult for them to detect”.
U JAMA Pediatrics to study from 2019 corroborates this, noting that Halloween “may increase the risk of pedestrian traffic, because celebrations occur at dusk, masks limit peripheral vision, costumes limit visibility, road crossing safety is neglected, and some partygoers are impaired by alcohol.” It’s the kind of lethal combination that can turn a fun occasion into a deadly nightmare. Including adult victims, the risk of death for all pedestrians was 43 percent higher on Halloween compared to a regular evening.
But what happens on Halloween is not an isolated incident. After gunshot woundsmotor vehicle injuries are i the second cause of death among children in the United States in general. And with the deaths of pedestrians (adults and children) at a Over 40 years old in the United States, it is worth asking why children traveling on the streets are so inherently deadly, and what can be done about it.
“Sometimes when you talk about this problem, you get pushback from people and people say, ‘Well, of course you have more children on the street, of course more children will die.’ Doug Gordona writer and podcast host who advocates for safer roads and cities, he told me. “But that accepts a basic level of danger that I think we, as a society, have accepted in the other 364 days of the year.”
There are wider reasons why roads have become even more dangerous for pedestrians recently. One is that drivers are distracted – not only by their phones, but increasingly by the infotainment systems which come as a part of newer cars. A more pressing problem is the growing size of cars in the United States; SUV make up half of all car sales in the United States, and they are much more likely to kill pedestrians in crashes than smaller vehicles. “Mass times [acceleration] it’s force,” Gordon summarized. “When you increase the mass of something, you increase the force at which it interacts with a vulnerable child.”
But the biggest reason may be that American roads and cities are designed for cars, and not people. As Charles Marohn – founder and president of Strong Towns and an expert in urban planning and civil engineering – said, engineers who design roads priority to get cars as soon as possible from point A to point B above all else. One recent example: A Utah traffic safety committee couldn’t find any way to make the five-lane road crossing at a school safer for students, other than simply removing the crosswalk.
But there is a lot that can be done to make the roads safer, for future Halloweens and every other day of the year. In the short term, cities and towns can build open road programs implemented after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which involves the closure of certain roads to car traffic to allow more public space. In particular, New York City announced a “Trick or Streets” plan. which will see 100 car-free zones in effect from 4 to 8 pm on Halloween this year. And the Big Apple is not alone, like Henry Grabar reported for Slate: less dense and more car-dependent cities like St. Petersburg, Florida, and Seattle will be too near the city center for Halloween or actually allow residents to apply for permits that they can close their neighborhoods to car traffic.
In the long run, Gordon believes that places around the United States will be able to pass what is known as the popsicle test, where a child must be able to safely walk to a store, buy a popsicle, and return home before it melts. In essence, every city must be designed to be friendly and traversable to the most vulnerable in our communities. “If you start thinking along those lines, then I think you start thinking along the lines of what infrastructure is needed to make this possible, where I feel comfortable letting my son do it,” Gordon said. “Halloween is like a giant version of the popsicle test because it’s not just your kid, it’s every kid in the neighborhood.”
Designing safer streets for kids goes beyond safety—it would make for a better Halloween. “Having sidewalks and good lighting is a good preventive measure, not only for injury prevention, but also just for general health,” Lee told me, “because it encourages everyone in the neighborhood to walk, exercise and go outside, which is better for everyone’s health too.”
And if their safety isn’t enough motivation, designing dense cities and walks could also lead to bigger hauls of candy for kids.
“When you build a city that’s safer, so that kids can walk by themselves and not have to worry about being hit by a car, or that parents are worried about being hit by a car, it’s just better,” he said. Gordon. “It’s amazing. They’re independent. It’s fun. And on Halloween, they get a lot of candy.”
Correction, October 31, 4 pm ET: An earlier version of this story had an inaccurate definition of the equation for force.
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