Halloween on a Friday: more fun mixed with more caution

Halloween is full of fun — dressing up, pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and lots and lots of candy.

It’s also an evening fraught with safety hazards — everything from benign tummy aches to tripping over costumes or on poorly lit sidewalks to getting hit by cars.

And this year, Halloween falls on a Friday. While many kids and adults can enjoy staying out later, it also means more caution is needed as families with little trick-or-treaters and eager partygoers hit the streets at the same time, some on foot, and others in cars.

Children are twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween as on any other day of the year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization committed to preventing accidental childhood injury.

Sadly, the first such death involving a metro child in recent years occurred last year. Autumn Mack, 5, was struck by a vehicle and killed while trick-or-treating in DeKalb County. (The little girl, dressed like a princess, was with a group of children and parents, and it was only 7 p.m. when the tragic accident took place: Autumn was standing behind her mother’s parked SUV before darting into the road, into the path of a minivan, according to police.)

Halloween is a particularly deadly night because of the high number of drunken drivers on the roads mixed with the increased number of people on foot. In fact, over the five years from 2007 to 2011, 23 percent of pedestrian fatalities on Halloween night involved a drunken driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (The NHTSA urges people who may drink alcohol to designate a sober driver and plan a way to safely get home.)

Experts say planning ahead and remaining vigilant are the keys to a safe holiday.

“It is a fun night,” said Dr. Vivian Lennon, medical director for primary care services at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “And as parents, we can get caught up with being worried about safety, but we want to keep our anxiety in check. … What we need to do is put on our thinking caps, be creative, and think about safety in a way that’s fun for our kids.”

Lennon recommends parents start with a review of the costume choices, making sure costumes aren’t too large or flowing so kids won’t trip. She also suggests adding reflective tape — which costs pennies at a hardware store — to any part of the costume, even on the backside of the costume.

A big fan of glow sticks, Lennon said they can be worn as necklaces, bracelets, even around the ankles. They’re not just for girls. She said boys like putting several together to make swords — ones that will not only light up but are also soft and flexible. Lennon, who is a mother to two boys, ages 9 and 13, buys them in bulk at the Dollar Store and gives them to her kids to share with friends.

For older kids who may be lukewarm to glow sticks, she suggests they tote flashlights, which will not only help them see in the dark, but also help them be seen by drivers.

The expected increase in the number of cars on the road this Halloween — especially after 9 or 10 p.m. when adults are going to or returning from a party — is Lennon’s biggest concern. While younger trick-or-treaters will likely be home by then, older ones, some of whom may not have parental supervision, may still be out. Parents of older trick-or-treaters should remind their kids about the importance of crossing at intersections, looking both ways and waiting for cars to pass. Trick-or-treaters should stay on sidewalks whenever possible, and walk facing the oncoming traffic. And no running, she said.

For many parents, Halloween falling on a Friday night is a treat in itself. And many are also taking steps to protect little princesses, superheroes, witches and ghosts, while they excitedly run around the neighborhood.

Seth Deitchman, of Johns Creek, said his kids, 4-year-old Ben and 6-year-old Jolie, can stay out a little later this year, closer to 8 or 8:30 p.m., since the holiday doesn’t fall on a school night.

His family, he said, will gather with other neighborhood families in one of the cul-de-sacs. His son plans to dress up as a karate master; his daughter plans to wear a Spider-Girl costume. The families will nosh on hot dogs, chili and other fare before venturing out in a few big groups of kids. He said they plan to start hunting for candy before dark, and always stay together in groups.

One of his concerns is just getting home soon enough on an expected monster traffic day as he and other parents try to leave work early. (For updates on traffic on Halloween Day, keep an eye on ajc.com.)

Deitchman plans to leave the office by 4 p.m. at the latest.

“They get in their costume and they get such a kick out of it. It’s so much fun to watch them,” Deitchman said.

And then he added with a laugh:

“And I get the candy I want when they sleep.”

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