When I was a kid, my friends and I would canvas our neighborhood year after year on Halloween. We were the most determined bunch of trick-or-treaters our small Iowa community had ever seen. The goal was always more candy. How could we come home with the biggest score yet; like a Hollywood blockbuster about a bank heist, we were strategic as we traveled door-to-door. From our costumes to our walking routes, nothing was random about our moves on Halloween night.
We knew which neighbors would give us an extra Snickers just because; we knew the well-to-do single lady (who we crushed on) would kindly repay us in Butterfingers for mowing her lawn while she was away on business. We knew the elderly couple around the corner – who were adept at keeping us boys fed all year long anyway – would treat us to a batch of scotcheroos neatly wrapped in plastic. Those were the days.
As I have aged, the allure of Halloween is lost on me. I am certain if I had children, that would change, but I’m talking more so about the adult versions of Halloween. Suffice it to say, I am not much of a party guy. I have nothing against Halloween parties per se but I am leery. Whenever so many are gathered and alcohol is involved, it can prove deadly when people go to leave.
“We don’t discourage having get-togethers during Halloween because it’s a fun time not only for children but also for adults,” explained Special First Lieutenant Jim Flegel, Traffic Safety Specialist, Michigan State Police. “What we encourage is designating a sober driver so you don’t get behind the wheel drunk and endanger your life or somebody else’s life.”
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 10,479 people are killed in alcohol related crashes every year, equaling 29 deaths daily and one death every 50 minutes. These incidents often spike on holidays; for example, a Geotab study we reported on over the summer found July 4th is the most dangerous day on U.S. roads. That same study also found holidays like Labor Day, New Year’s Eve, and Halloween carry with them an inherent risk when traveling. However, when compared to other holidays, Halloween is becoming more problematic.
“I have seen that change literally in front of my eyes over the past decade,” explained Doug Scoles, Great Lakes Regional Director, MADD. “We were always concerned about New Year’s Eve, July 4th, St. Patrick’s Day, and even the Super Bowl, but Halloween has become one of the most dangerous times of the year with impaired drivers on the road.”
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows fatal crashes involving drunk drivers occur three times more often on Halloween than New Year’s Eve. MADD refers to the aforementioned holidays, like Halloween, as “second-tier holidays” but advises citizens remain cautious anyway.
“They have been coming on strong for the last couple of decades because there is a lot of celebrating around these second-tier holidays now,” Scoles added. “Partying with alcohol on these days is the same core problem we have in virtually all impaired driving cases.”
Data from the National Safety Council shows 107 fatalities occurred on October 31st 2016. Further analysis shows 66 were drivers, 17 were occupants, 23 were pedestrians, and one was a cyclist. Sadly, nine of the occupants were 20 or under, and two of the pedestrian fatalities were children between the ages of four and seven. When walking through our neighborhoods with little ones, it’s vital to consider the risk. This is not something we want to think about – the natural order of things is for children to lay their parents to rest, not the other way around. Yet, we are wise to consider the possibility, grim though it may be, and take action accordingly.
“Children are very excited and love going door-to-door getting candy, and they don’t always watch out for cars,” Flegel said. “Always make sure they are visible; have them carry some type of light, or wear some type of bright colored clothing.”
The Michigan State Police recommend parents talk to their children about watching for traffic. Flegel suggests going door-to-door with your children on Halloween to prevent them from inadvertently running into the street. MADD advises parents remain vigilant and understand the chances exist in every neighborhood for a motorist to be operating under the influence. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows adults drink and drive about 121 million times per year, creating more than 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving daily.
“I hate to sound overly cautious, but the last thing we want is a tragedy to happen when it should be a fun time for kids dressing up and getting candy,” Scoles said. “We recommend taking extra precautions to safeguard children and for parents to always be very aware of their surroundings.”
Awareness & Prevention
The real tragedy in the aforementioned statistics is how they represent a person; a person who was loved and cherished by someone else. Each number could just as easily represent a person in our own lives who we care for and love. And it is likely someone reading knows this pain all too well. If you are that person, I cannot imagine the void you must feel. At some point, we are all likely to become a statistic of one kind or another, but each statistic involving an impaired driver was entirely preventable. This only magnifies the tragedy.
“It is not like some disease or act of terrorism where you are blindsided with it and have no choice,” Scoles said. “This is something that we can prevent because the decision to get behind the wheel while under the influence is made deliberately.”
In Michigan where I live, the story is somewhat of a double sided coin. On one hand, the Michigan State Police have actually seen a decrease in drunk driving incidents and the department is optimistic that will continue. On the other side, the news is not as good as drugged driving continues to increase.
“We have done a pretty good job of educating the public about not getting behind the wheel when you’re impaired on alcohol,” Flegel said. “Unfortunately, over this last year, drugged driving has seen a drastic increase, so we want to get the word out to not get behind the wheel when you are impaired on other drugs, which can include prescription medication.”
“Our messaging, public awareness, and programs supporting law enforcement play a big part in taking the impaired driver off the road,” Scoles added. “We are in the fight against drunk and drugged driving to save lives and prevent that tragedy from happening.”
Tips & Advice
NHTSA provides these tips for drivers and pedestrians to consider on Halloween night. The CDC has published a list of general safety practices for parents and guardians to follow while trick-or-treating. Below we have some bullet point tips from the Michigan State Police, National Safety Council, and MADD. The safety advice is relevant not only for Halloween night, but overall in our daily lives. We would add only one observation, based on our work in the automotive industry: Cars today have more horsepower and torque than ever before. Even the most mundane family sedans have plenty of zip from their small displacement engines. Under the influence, a car is essentially a 3,500 lbs. missile on wheels, and a quick one at that.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and says they are going to crash their car today,” Flegel said. “But as a driver, you still have to maintain control of your vehicle at all times.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.
Safety Tips From The National Safety Council
Enter and exit driveways carefully.
Fasten reflective tape to costumes and candy bags.
Agree on a specific time children should return home.
Teach your children to never enter a stranger’s home or car.
Watch for children walking on roadways, medians, and curbs.
At twilight and later in the evening, watch for children in dark clothing.
Instruct children to travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and stick with their friends.
Safety Tips From Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Designate a sober driver.
Use a taxi or ride share service.
Plan ahead if your night includes alcohol.
Buckle up: This is the best defense against an impaired driver.
MADD Victim Services Hotline: 1-877-MADD-HELP (24 hours / 7 days a week).
Safety Tips From The Michigan State Police
Abide by all traffic laws and posted signs.
Pay attention behind the wheel at all times.
Remove all distractions in the car, including cell phones.
Allow for plenty of time when crossing a street or intersection.
Use sidewalks whenever available and never cross the street mid-block.
Cross streets at a corner, using traffic signals and crosswalks whenever possible.
Always stop at the edge of a parked car, curb, or vehicle before walking out into traffic.
Wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight when walking at night or during the early morning.