Halloween: A Lot Less Scary If Drivers and Roads Were Safer

Halloween is fun because we get to be afraid of things that we know aren’t really scary. But for little trick or treaters in the United States, the danger posed by reckless drivers and unsafe roads is real.

A 2012 study by insurance company State Farm found that motorists kill more children on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Reported LoHud:

From 1990 to 2010, 115 pedestrians under the age of 18 were killed by motor vehicles on Oct. 31, an average of 5.5 fatalities a year during that period.  There are an average of 2.6 child pedestrian deaths other days of the year, the report found.

Above is a tweet from the Maryland State Highway Administration, which is loaning reflective vests for kids to wear tonight. The agency has a tip sheet for pedestrians and motorists, but holiday-themed PR campaigns are not a substitute for streets that are safe for walking 365 days a year.

Yet that doesn’t stop us from victim-blaming. “Crowds of trick-or-treaters traveling the streets contribute to the increased risk,” wrote LoHud.

The State Farm study also noted that more than 70 percent of crashes that kill kids on Halloween “occurred away from an intersection or crosswalk,” implying that unsafe pedestrian behavior, rather than lack of pedestrian infrastructure, is the issue. State Farm advises parents and kids to “stick to neighborhoods with sidewalks.” While this advice is easy to follow in some major cities, complete streets are not the norm in most of the country.

Suggesting pedestrians wear reflective tape and asking motorists to not kill people isn’t getting the job done. To keep kids safe every day, we need streets designed to accommodate them.

  • Mark Dzuibek

    If pedestrians have to take personal responsibility by covering themselves in bright duct tape, drivers should take personal responsibility as well. Halloween should be declared a “driving holiday” or “car free day” with people encouraged to reduce driving for the 24 hour period.

  • Ben_Kintisch

    Great post. I live in a suburb in NJ, where, like many small towns in America, sidewalks start and stop without reason. When the sidewalk stops, walkers (on Halloween or any other night) step into traffic to avoid walking on lawns. We need mandatory sidewalks everywhere so that walkers, runners, and disabled people can get where they want to go without risking life and limb.

  • Jesse

    Some communities are so poorly suited to walking that they have trick – or – treating at the local mall or out of the trunks of their cars in parking lots. America, you’re doing it wrong.

  • HamTech87

    Yes! or lower the speed limit throughout the town to 5 mph, and post crossing guards at major roadways.

  • Daphna

    This article tells me that drivers are unwilling to slow down and be patient and careful for just one evening a year even when they know there will be many more pedestrians about than normal. Drivers should have basic common sense and understand that they need to drive with caution and at a reduced speed on Halloween night.

  • Daphna

    Poor kids have to have their whole costume covered up by a safety vests which makes them look as if they all dressed up as construction workers. A better solution would be to have a 4 hour car free streets period for this one night of the year.

  • Easy

    It seems quite possible that halloween may be the safest time for kids to walk. There are twice as many fatalities as other days, but probably way more than twice as many children walking. Nonetheless, each pixel in that graph represents a dead child, and that’s an appalling amount of red.

  • davistrain

    “Slow down and be patient” is an alien concept to all too many motorists. Selfishness and impatience are two of the reasons I give in my article on why the automobile has become the most popular form of personal transportation in most of the USA.

  • walks bikes drives

    I gotta say, driving tonight in the upper west side, some costumes made it really hard to see people. I was traveling at about 10-15mph and had trouble seeing many of them. Outside of blanketing intersections with high intensity lighting, I don’t know what else street design could really help with. In some cases, we just have to think about what our kids are wearing. For example, Darth Vader costumes are just not condusive to being seen and I wouldn’t let my son out in one without attaching some sort of lighting to him.

    Now, if I, as a person who really takes street/traffic safety to heart have trouble seeing people, and I’m looking for them, it says to me that there is something more than just driver attention and speed that needs to be focused on. Safety, and vision zero, needs to be from all sides.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not seeing why we can’t just have Halloween car-free in major cities. Is one afternoon/evening with no driving really going to impact anyone’s life that severely? It may even help some people realize they can ditch the car altogether.

  • andrelot

    That is unworkable. A reasonable number of people still have to go to work, travel to catch middle of the night flights, and even on the best transit cities, there is often no transit available for these journeys.

    You are essentially trying to impose on everyone the obligation to build their schedules around a silly party.

  • andrelot

    In most of US there is no other option than to drive. You have people working at the evening of Oct 31st, many on locations that don’t have any transit. How are they supposed to go to work?

  • andrelot

    Once again, I reject this idea because it would have an impact on people who don’t have any other way to reach the places they need to, like their workplaces. Like we or not, the majority of people work and live in places where there is no feasible option than to drive. And, believe it, dozens of millions are working during Halloween. Even if they all ditched their cars, there would still be no possibility to get around by transit, and where transit exists, it wouldn’t be able to cope with the surge on patronage.

  • Kevin Love

    Are their legs broken?

    Having a car-free city for one night makes cycling possible in places where otherwise terrorist car drivers terrorize people off the roads.

  • walks bikes drives

    Well, let’s be honest here. Will that ever actually happen? There are people who legitimately need a car based on where they live and where they work. If you worked out in NJ, in a transit inaccessible location, but lived with your family in NYC, how would you feel to be told you can’t come home on Halloween night between the hours of 4pm and 9pm? Yes, the number of people this fits is few, but still.

    Joe, I know you are pretty anti-car, but the truth is, as a city, we are not going to end auto use. We can make pedestrian plazas, close off streets to vehicular traffic, and do a lot of things to mitigate automotive impact, but we will, hopefully, reduce the number of cars. But we are not going to be able to eliminate them completely.

    So yes, I think it is the job of the parent to make sure that Darth Vader is carrying a light up light saber that is always on. That the wicked witch should carry a flashlight in her hand. This is not victim blaming, this is saying common sense is that everyone needs to do their part to ensure the safety of themselves and everyone else. No one should expect that their safety is the responsibility of someone else or that other people’s safety is not your responsibility. Unless everyone works together, principle or no principle, safety is not going to adequately increase. Isn’t that the guiding principle of Vision Zero (the real one)?

  • andrelot

    How can you possibly walk 10, 15, 20 miles to your job, reserved restaurant, airport etc?

    Making a whole city “car-free” makes it impossible for people to move around to places where transit isn’t a viable alternative (viable as in: takes me there at most in 150% of the time it takes to drive).

  • Velocipedian

    Obvious as it may seem, your take on required car mobility only exists because, in most of the US, you don’t have a choice! Doesn’t that make you wonder what the bigger problem is?
    Replace “pedestrian” in this article with “walker” and see how absurd demands are on humans wanting to walk from place to place.

  • Joe R.

    I’m anti-car in cities, not anti-car in general. To me widespread car use in cities makes about as much sense as a subway in rural Nebraska. It’s just the wrong tool for the job.

    As for your hypothetical scenario, I’m of three minds here:

    1) Get a job in a transit accessible location. I really think there should be some kind of master job bank where people can see if a similar job exists closer to home. Suppose someone in NJ was coming to NYC to do a similar job at similar pay as the person in NYC who is going to NJ? It would be better for both if they just switched jobs. Without some kind of master database however, you would never know if such a situation existed.

    2) Telecommute if possible. For full disclosure I work for people in several states. Right now my main consulting gig is with Exxon Mobil in Aberdeen, NJ. I’ve been on site exactly once since I started in April. It’s not transit accessible, but I took NJ Transit most of the way, then stayed at a friend’s place who gave me a ride to work that week. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I couldn’t work 99% of the time from home. For one thing I don’t have a license or car. For another, even if I did, it’s over two hours each way, possibly more (it’s about 3 hours each way via public transit).

    3) Park the car in a park-and-ride lot somewhere in NJ, take public transit there, and drive the rest of the way to work. This alternative is probably quicker than driving all the way to/from NYC unless you’re working off-hours.

    Anyway, we’re talking about one lousy day here. Even if you have no alternatives to driving, worst case you might just be stuck taking the day off. That’s not so bad. Americans are overworked anyway. I’ve long felt Halloween should be an off day at least for school kids, perhaps even for parents.

    We can and should eliminate private cars completely in Manhattan. We can greatly mitigate them everywhere else in the city if we get started building more subways, bikeways, etc. I get why people sometimes drive if no convenient alternatives exist. In a large city the only reason convenient alternatives don’t exist is because government has chosen not to make them available, often on the assumption people will drive. A century ago America was far less urban than today yet nearly nobody had cars. We all somehow managed, mostly because our rail network was much better than today.

    I have no argument that everyone is responsible for their own safety. However, operating multi-ton vehicles at high speeds in close proximity to people on foot or on bikes is inherently a dangerous situation. No matter how careful, occasionally even the best-intentioned people make mistakes. The best way to engineer safety is to engineer the danger out of the situation. In cities that could mean greatly reducing the number of motor vehicles. It can also mean putting cyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicles entirely on separate levels. I personally feel as cities become more crowded the latter solution will be used more and more simply because we’ll lack the space to keep everyone on one level.

  • Joe R.

    We’re talking about cities here. There’s no good reason other than government incompetence for us not to have options other than driving in cities.

  • Joe R.

    Kevin said “cycling”. It’s easily possible to cycle 10 miles. Many people can do 20 miles or more if they pace themselves.

    (viable as in: takes me there at most in 150% of the time it takes to drive)

    You do know that most car trips in NYC average less than 15 mph from origin to destination? Given your metric, if you can bike at 10 mph or more, then biking is a viable alternative. Most people who aren’t disabled can easily bike at 10-12 mph.

    Point of fact, you don’t even need to bike that fast to beat cars much of the time. Manhattan traffic averages something like 7 mph. A grade school kid or a pensioner can easily beat that.

  • andrelot

    I’m not saying that more investment on pedestrian infrastructure is not needed (like better sidewalks, properly signed crossings with properly timed pedestrian-only phases on traffic lights etc). Much is needed on that area.

    However, it is foolish to ignore the status quo and suggest that drivers should just “deal with it” by being immobile for a whole day in a whole city without options. Sounds like a desperate measure, some angry form of mobility management trying to “force drivers to support other alternatives by taking their ability to drive out for a whole day”.

  • p_chazz

    In a word, yes.

  • Joe R.

    Last I checked, Halloween falls on October 31 every year. That means people have all the time in the world to plan around not being able to use their car that day. There may be issues if you just make an announcement out of the blue and tell people they can’t drive tomorrow, but that’s not the case here. We have road closures for many other events all the time. It doesn’t cause issues precisely because people know about it in advance, hence can plan around it. Moreover, maybe if people managed to get by without a car one day, they might try it on other days, perhaps permanently.

    In many cases the decision to drive has nothing to do with lack of available options and everything to do with force of habit. Look how many people drive into Manhattan each day for 9 to 5 jobs despite the plethora of options available during this time. The sad part is for most of these people these options are actually faster and less costly than driving, and yet they refuse to use them.

    Sure, you might get some people inconvenienced because they didn’t plan ahead. However, these are most likely the same people who stand in line at the Post Office on April 15 to mail their taxes (i.e. when I watch the news I swear it’s the same faces year after year who do this). Some people just won’t take heed of announced changes or deadlines no matter what but that’s not an excuse to not do something. After all, we don’t change our tax filing deadline each year because some people wait until last minute.

  • andrelot

    But there is a major difference between a couple road closures, which people get around, and shutting down car traffic for an entire city or borough.

    The latter only happens, partially, on major natural disasters or truly unexpected event like 9/11, situations where life is already disrupted for most people. When 9/11 happened, there were countless stories of people who walked several miles to their homes in Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn. Doesn’t mean it is feasible to ask them to do so every Oct. 31st.

  • It’s easy to walk 20 miles to your job:
    1) Realize that for 4 hours the roads will be closed on October 31st, right when you, person with a non-standard job start time, would need to leave for work.
    2) Make sure the closures really affect your start or end point, as not every single possible road is shut down.
    3) Realize that you would need to leave 4 hours early to walk there.
    4) Walk to your car 2 hours early, just before the roads shut down.
    5) Drive to work.

    The drive home is free.

    And I’m sure emergency plumbers would be let through to do their jobs, both ways, possibly slowing down as conditions warrant.

    There’s another alternative: increase the penalties for hitting someone dramatically and let the people figure it out.

  • Joe R.

    If we’re talking about Dallas or some other largely car dependent city, then you’re right. If we’re talking NYC, then people largely have options, especially when they can plan ahead. Remember less than half the households in NYC own cars. Probably under 10% use cars on a daily basis. In fact, I think we should start with Halloween and gradually add more and more car-free days.

  • lop

    Census ACS estimates 814k NYC residents drove to work alone, 187k carpooled. There are less than 2 million cars registered in NYC. Close to 50% get used just for commuting, not 10%. If you meant households total, then close to 25% use a car just for commuting it would seem. Plenty more are likely to use one to ferry kids to transit inaccessible locations and run errands. Almost all jobs in the city might be reachable by transit, but the commute time for many would be atrocious. Many city residents have jobs in suburbs that are not easily reached by public transit if at all.

  • Coolebra

    People in the Chicago area sometimes use “Block Party” provisions to secure flashing barricades to effectively make their neighborhoods car free.

    It is the exception rather than the rule, and some local governments limit the number of Halloween Block Parties due to high demand and the need to be able to move public safety vehicles efficiently (without stopping to move barricades).

    Thus, it seems many neighborhoods like the idea of car free streets. I agree, however, that a community-wide limitation is unlikely to work. So unlikely as to not rise to the level of a policy discussion among those that could implement such a restriction.

    A volunteer effort to encourage car free Halloween? Sure.

  • Coolebra

    I don’t know the stats, but would believe many accidents are at non-intersections, as well.

    Perhaps flashing devices like cyclists wear could help without altering the type of costume a child may wish to wear.

    Even then, running out from between cars is a sure way to undermine all other interventions.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    At least part of 7th Avenue in Park Slope and several side streets were closed to traffic last Friday evening. Very kid-centric and quite the scene man.


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