The Truth About Halloween Safety
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Halloween is supposed to be scary. That’s part of the fun.
But it’s supposed to be ghosts and goblins and urban legends scary, not worried about our kids coming home safely scary. For most protector parents, though, it’s both.
Sadly, we do have reason to worry on All Hallows Eve. Data shows that Halloween night is the most dangerous night of the year for children, with a child death rate about 50% greater than average if it’s on a weeknight and nearly double normal if it’s on a weekend night. That’s seriously scary, and something we should take action about.
But here’s the thing.
We worry about the wrong dangers on Halloween. Like the story about the guard running from an imagined goblin and falling off a cliff, we try to stay vigilant but end up worrying about and making plans for the wrong kinds of trouble. What’s on the news and on our minds about Halloween safety aren’t the important dangers. Let’s look at the two biggest.
You hear about this boogeyman every year, about how you should check your kids’ candy for poison, needles, even drugs that some asshat put in their candy for kicks. You’ll find this advice in blog posts, on newscasts, even from some police. The whole tradition of moving trick or treating to malls and downtown blocks instead of the neighborhood came from worries about this nefarious act of random malice…
...which has literally never happened. There are zero recorded cases of a child dying from candy tampered with by a stranger. Zero. None. Nil. Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Not one time has this actually happened.
What did happen, back in the late 70s, was a stepdad who apparently wanted more quality time with his wife went and poisoned candy he gave to his stepkids. There is no mitigating how evil, awful, and tragic that was — but it poses no danger whatsoever to your kids.
The other terrible story that goes around is child predators lurking on Halloween night, ready to grab a costumed kid to victimize them, or waiting for a lonely trick or treater to come to their door. It’s another common horror story and for good reason. Few things are worse to imagine than this kind of thing happening to our kids.
But stranger danger is vanishingly rare. On every day of the year, children are far more likely to be hurt by people they know than by a stranger lying in wait, or driving around in a van. When it does happen, it’s tragic to the extreme but it’s much better to spend our efforts watching for danger where it’s more likely.
On Halloween especially, it’s even less likely. Most jurisdictions lockdown people on the sex offender list, keeping a closer eye or even require them to spend the night in a particular church or public building. Beyond that, Halloween night is when families are out on the street when things would normally be lonely. It’s the worst night of the year to try perpetrating any serious evil. The night is full of witnesses!
Okay, Jason. Fine. But What’s Causing the Deaths, Then?
So. We know candy tampering and stranger danger aren’t hurting kids on Halloween. But it’s still the most dangerous night of the year for kids. What is causing those deaths and injuries, and what can we do about it? The problems boil down to four key hazards:
Almost all of the increased deaths on Halloween night come from traffic accidents: kids struck by cars early in the evening, and DUI deaths later and in the wee hours of November 1st.
It’s easy to see why that’s so. You have a night full of small humans, many dressed in dark colors, all of whom are sugar-high, sleep-deprived, excited, or a combination of all three. They’re doing this during the hours of worst driving visibility — early evening — and it’s all happening on a night when people drink more than usual.
This is a recipe for disaster on par with the eye of newt and lizard’s leg the witches used in Macbeth. Luckily, there are things we can do with our little trick or treaters to reduce the risks:
Team up with other parents to move in large, highly visible groups
Encourage costumes in bright colors, or put reflective tape on if they insist on the darker stuff
Insist on regular traffic safety: cross at the corners, look both ways, move swiftly and predictably
Buy glowsticks with lanyards and hang one around the neck of everybody
Choose low-traffic areas or pedestrian-only malls for after-dark trick or treating
Carry a bright flashlight or strobe light with you as you shepherd your charges around
For older kids trick or treating on their own, mount LED lights on their costumes
For kids under five, hold hands whenever near a street
Those few steps can drastically reduce the chances of a kid getting hurt in traffic, and none of them take more than a couple of minutes.
It’s not fair. Just as our kids are getting old enough and mature enough to be safe trick or treating, they don’t want to anymore. Instead, they want to go to Halloween parties, mostly unsupervised, and most of which (let’s not kid ourselves) have some alcohol on site.
The dangers of unsupervised kids with booze is too broad of a topic for a single blog post. What I want to mention here is how drunk teens out on the most dangerous night of the year contributes to the DUI rates and all the awful things related to that.
Of all nights of the year, this is the night where we need to keep a close watch on our teens. Use the tracking apps on our phones, have regular text check-ins, host a lock-in party at the house, and enforce a reasonable curfew. Any of those small acts can make a big difference.
It’s also a good night to reiterate the deal every parent should have with their teens. The one where you promise that if they give a codeword, you will come to the rescue no questions asked and no lectures given. Halloween is a night when teens get in over their heads, and need a parental lifeline they’re not afraid to call for.
Finally, help your teens remember that parties they go to aren’t the only thing to worry about. As the hour grows later, other parties start releasing their guests. A higher-than-average number of those guests are intoxicated. Whatever deal you strike with your teens, have it include being safely indoors before that happens.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t dress our kids up for Halloween. That’s half the fun. I am saying that a few aspects of costumes cause injuries and deaths every year:
Masks and eyewear that restrict vision so kids can’t see when they cross the street
Capes or cloaks tied at the neck that snag on something, then choke a child
Toxic face makeup
Flowing sleeves, capes, and similar costume parts that catch on things, or catch on fire
Footwear that exposes kids to blisters or even frostbite
Costumes in dark colors that make it hard for drivers to see
Sharp props that cut or stab when somebody falls down
Costumes made of material that’s not flame-resistant
Handheld props that make a child unable to catch themselves when they slip or fall
That’s a tough-looking list, but have no fear! Every single item on it is easy to solve, workaround, or avoid. We just need to take time to consider the costumes our kids want, then get creative about helping it happen while avoiding the dangers.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
This dark horse candidate puts trick-or-treaters in the hospital every year, though it doesn’t result in too many deaths. In all the excitement about candy and costumes, kids and adults alike forget that it’s almost November. Temperatures get dangerous after dark, and Halloween costumes aren’t built for warmth.
The best solution I’ve found for this is putting kids’ PJs on under their costumes. Use the set that best balances between thin and warm. That way you’re not covering up the outfit they’re so excited about, but they stay warm. Add that to good shoes or boots with warm socks, and you’ll be good to go. While you’re at it, be cautious about tight costumes that might cut circulation and increase the risk of frostbite.
In colder climates, checking in for signs of frostbite and hypothermia every half hour or so is also a good idea. That said, I live in Oregon, so if you live up north, you probably know more about that than me.
You’re reading this because you’re interested enough in family safety to read Andy’s work. You’ve read all the way to here because you found this information important, interesting, or at least entertaining. If you’d like more, I invite you to check out my project Safest Family on the Block.
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And, of course, Andy himself has been on the show, in an episode where we talk about the most important things we’ve both learned while doing our podcasts. We also have a few guests in common, like Beverly Baker of Asphalt Anthropology and best-selling author of The Safety Trap, Spencer Coursen.
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About the Author
Jason Brick has been a martial artist for 37 years, a parent for 21, and a journalist for 12. He combines those passions to interview experts in his podcast Safest Family on the Block. Get a free safe home blueprint from him by signing up for his weekly Family Safety Briefing newsletter.