Halloween is by far and away the most dangerous time for children walking along our roads – and there’s a lot we can learn from that.

Of course, the roads themselves don’t change on Oct. 31. What changes is the number of kids using them – and when we get more people walking on roads designed primarily for cars, people get hurt.

That is true whether it is Halloween, Christmas or a random day in April. It’s just that we notice it more every year at the end of October, when millions of young kids hit the streets at the same time.

According to federal highway data, children are three times more likely to be hit and killed by a vehicle on Oct. 31 than any other day of the year. The numbers are low – the Washington Post found an average of 54 fatalities on Halloween from 2004-18, compared with 16 on a typical day – but the increase is significant nonetheless.

There are some Halloween-specific reasons for the increase. A study in JAMA Pediatrics found that the 6 p.m. hour is the most dangerous — not only are the most trick-or-treaters out at that hour, but it is also the time of the evening commute and sunset, which can make visibility difficult.

But the real reason Halloween is so dangerous is that so many more people are on the road. In a less dramatic fashion, we are seeing that dynamic play out every day on roads across the United States.

More pedestrians and cyclists were hit by cars in 2018 than any other year since 1990, and fatalities per vehicle mile traveled have increased 33 percent since 2009.

In Maine, between 2003 and 2014, the number of pedestrian deaths ranged between seven and 13 per year. In 2015, the number jumped to 19, with another 17 in 2016 and 21 in 2017. After just five deaths last year, there were eight pedestrian deaths by mid-July.

Alcohol and drugs are to blame in some instances. In the smartphone era, distracted driving and walking are factors.

But the biggest difference is that more people are biking or walking to work than ever before, putting more foot and bike traffic on roads built largely without that kind of traffic in mind.

In fact, the JAMA study, which found kids ages 4 to 8 are 10 times more likely to die on Halloween than other autumn evenings, recommended not canceling or altering trick-or-treating but better road policies and construction. We need sidewalks, street crossings and speed enforcement every day of the year, not a narrow focus on Halloween, researchers said.

“Year-round application of effective traffic safety interventions will foster much greater progress toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities altogether,” the study said.

We’re excited to follow the work of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Heads up Pedestrian Safety Initiative. The department’s focus is on 21 communities that together account for 69 percent of pedestrian-involved accidents — places where population density means more pedestrians and more vehicles, and thus more collisions.

That’s the right approach. The state should put resources where they will do the most good.

And roads built for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists are not only safer but also help build community. They give people reason to get out and be active. They allow people without cars to get around. They cut down on the use of fossil fuels.

Well-designed rules accomplish all those things, every day – not just on Halloween.


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