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Janek: Pedestrian accidents involving children up on Halloween

Cathy Janek, Naperville Sun Transportation columnist.
Cathy Janek, Naperville Sun Transportation columnist.

With another Halloween around the corner, the costumes have been likely deliberated (ad nauseam for some in my house), debated (again, ad nauseam for some in my house), and ultimately decided upon, and the crew of candy collectors has been assembled.

But one question might still remain. At what age should a parent continue to tag along with trick-or-treaters, slink along at a reasonable distance behind, or not follow along at all?

If you asked my husband and me this question only a few years ago, the answer probably would have been a resounding “never.” Until recently, we have been a thoroughly embarrassing and united front on this issue.

Inevitably, I guess, as time has marched on, we have loosened the apron strings a bit — especially after we realized we could track our oldest daughter’s trick-or-treating movements via her smartphone.

For many parents like us, about the time we were comfortable letting our kids go trick-or-treating without us, our kids were nearing the end of their candy-seeking days.

And while worry has accounted for a considerably large and somewhat unnecessary portion of my parenting years, some of it might be justified.

According to the National Safety Council, Halloween can be a dangerous time for pedestrian accidents, especially because kids tend to take the shortest route, which might mean darting between parked cars. Children also can be distracted by other children’s costumes, behaviors and home decorations, and be less attentive to potential traffic threats and street surroundings.

A 2012 study by State Farm and Bert Sperling of Sperling’s Best Places found Halloween has been the deadliest day for pedestrian accidents involving children. From 1990 to 2010, the study found an average of 5.5 fatalities each year on Oct. 31, which is more than double the average number of 2.6 fatalities for other days throughout the year.

The study also found the hour between 6 and 7 p.m. was especially dangerous and accounted for almost a quarter of accidents on Halloween.

“There is no set age when a child can trick or treat by themselves in Naperville,” said Julie Smith, crime prevention specialist with the Naperville Police Department. “It is up to the parents.”

But guardians might want to take these statistics into account. Youth ages 12 to 15 accounted for 32 percent of all child pedestrian fatalities, followed by children ages 5 to 8 who accounted for 23 percent.

“About the middle-school age, most children have the necessary tools to keep themselves safe,” Smith added. “It is a great opportunity for parents to have a conversation with their children about what rules they are going to follow to keep themselves safe such as carrying a flashlight or only going to houses with the porch light on.”

For Donna Pistolis, a Naperville mom of two teenage sons, “it really depends on the child.”

“Some children are ready earlier than others,” she said. “It also depends on where they plan on going and who they are going with.”

Smith recommends that parents set a specific time frame for their children and have prescheduled check-in times. She also suggests determining in advance which neighborhoods the kids should trick or treat in.

Parents should go over pedestrian safety guidelines with their children, such as staying on sidewalks and to remember to look for traffic before crossing the street, Smith added.

“Children should begin to wrap up their trick-or-treating time, about the time it starts to get dark,” she said.

While the city of Naperville doesn’t have set times for gathering candy Oct. 31, officials do offer safety tips on the city website, www.naperville.il.us/halloween.aspx.

Have fun and be safe! I’ll be checking my smartphone.

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