Group focuses on promoting pedestrian safety for Halloween

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Halloween safety these days has more to do with visibility than poisoned treats.

Twice as many children are killed while walking on Halloween than any other night of the year, according to Safe Kids USA.

Halloween safety tips from Safe Kids Columbia

To ensure trick-or-treaters stay safe, Safe Kids Columbia recommends that children:

  • Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. Look left, right and left again when crossing, and keep looking as you cross. Walk — don’t run — across the street.
  • Walk on sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible. Children should walk on direct routes with the fewest street crossings.
  • Slow down and stay alert. Watch for cars that are turning or backing up, and never dart into the street or cross between parked cars.
  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors. Masks can obstruct a child’s vision, so choose non-toxic face paint and makeup whenever possible. Have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights to see better, as well as be seen by drivers.

Motorists should:

  • Slow down in residential neighborhoods and school zones.
  • Be especially alert and take extra time to look for kids at intersections, on medians and on curbs. Children are excited on Halloween and can move in unpredictable ways.
  • Slowly and carefully enter and exit driveways and alleys.
  • Reduce any distractions inside your car, such as talking on the phone or eating, so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings.

Safe Kids Columbia, with the help of corporate sponsor FedEx, has handed out activity books at schools to educate children about pedestrian safety and provided about 2,000 reflective pumpkins, ghosts and trick-or-treat bags to help improve the visibility of trick-or-treaters.

Flashlights, glow sticks and reflective material help children to see better as well as be seen by drivers.

“Visibility is huge,” said Lezlie Dahlke, coordinator of Safe Kids Columbia.

In addition to promoting visibility, Safe Kids Columbia is recommending that parents check their children's candy.

“While kids never want to wait to dive into their candy, it is best to check sweets for signs of tampering before children are allowed to eat them,” Dahlke said.

The practice of giving contaminated treats to children during trick-or-treating doesn’t happen as often as people might think.

Joel Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, said he has been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat received while trick-or-treating.

Best examined press coverage dating back to 1958 in four American newspapers and found few reports of children being injured by tainted candy.

Most reports of contaminated candy, he found, were either hoaxes or ended up having little to do with trick-or-treating.

In his report, Best lists five deaths attributed to "Halloween sadism." One case involved an 8-year-old boy who died after eating candy that was laced with cyanide. It was later revealed that the boy’s father had given him the candy after taking out a life insurance policy on his son.

Contaminated candy was blamed in the case of a 7-year-old girl after she collapsed and died while trick-or-treating despite her parents telling authorities that she had heart problems. The coroner later decided she died of an enlarged heart.

Best said candy tampering is a contemporary legend that hospitals helped to keep alive by offering to X-ray candy.

“It’s a way of acknowledging the legend of the Halloween sadist,” he said.

University Hospital offered to X-ray Halloween candy in the past but has since stopped the practice, MU Health Care spokesman Jeff Hoelscher said.

Dahlke, who is also a trauma outreach coordinator for MU Health Care, acknowledged the lack of cases but believes it's important for parents to look out for candy contamination.

"There are many things that can happen," she said. "I don’t think that it takes that much time. Why not just be cautious?”

Best said some parents are afraid because society views children as vulnerable.

“Worrying about children is a way of talking about the future,” he said. “Children are the walking, talking future. Trying to protect children becomes a way of addressing the anxieties we have about the future.”

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