Hey mom and dad: Halloween's not really all that scary — except when it comes to traffic safety.
Despite warnings about tainted candy, candle fires and even child abductions, real Halloween headlines are rarely about any of those things. Instead, tragedies related to the holiday typically involve trick-or-treaters hit by cars. Fortunately even those accidents are relatively few in number.
And here's something that might surprise you. A study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the most emergency room visits involving children around Halloween are related to sports.
The report stated nearly 18 percent of injuries on Halloween were to the finger and hand, and a third of those were lacerations, with some likely resulting from pumpkin-carving. But the report added that "a much higher proportion of injuries that occurred on Halloween were associated with sports, including football and basketball, than with knives."
Which is not to say parents should spend Oct. 31 relaxing. (Are parents ever allowed to relax?) Obviously, you need to know where kids are, monitor candy hauls, and make sure they can see out of their masks and won't trip on their costumes. But here are some statistics to provide a reality check on what's really scary about Halloween.
TAINTED CANDY: URBAN LEGEND VS. REALITY
Of course you should examine goodies and make sure kids avoid treats that aren't sealed.
But know this: "There isn't any case of a child killed or injured from a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick or treating," according to Joel Best, a professor at the University of Delaware who has extensively researched the subject.
Best says there have been more than 100 reports of tainted treats going back to 1958, but they include a father who poisoned his child to collect insurance money, incidents where someone gave out booby-trapped goodies but nobody was injured, and cases where kids had food allergies.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, in four out of six years between 2006 and 2010, more pedestrians under the age of 21 were killed by cars on Oct. 31 than on Oct. 30 or Nov. 1.
The numbers are small: A total of 16 deaths took place on Oct. 31 during those five years, compared to 11 on Oct. 30 and 10 on Nov. 1.
But a quick survey of news stories from 2011 suggests that traffic safety on Halloween is one area where parental vigilance is warranted. Last year, children and teenagers trick-or-treating or heading to Halloween parties were injured or killed in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Port Bolivar, Texas, Lower Allen Township, Pa., and Colorado Springs, Colo. Most cases involved pedestrians hit while crossing streets or walking along roads; one case resulted in a drunk driving arrest. In another case, parents were injured along with their child.
One way to increase pedestrian visibility on Halloween: Have kids carry a flashlight or glowstick, or add glow-in-the-dark necklaces or reflective tape to costumes.
DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE?
Statistically it's rare for children to be kidnapped by strangers, but it seems like there's always a case in the news. In the last few weeks, a girl was found murdered in Colorado and another child was abducted, then found, in Wyoming. So it's understandable that Halloween makes parents nervous, with kids out after dark, sometimes unaccompanied by parents, often approaching strangers to ask for candy.
Obviously parents should keep track of kids, stay in touch by cell phone with teens, and make sure younger children have adult supervision.
But perhaps you'll find this reassuring: There is no data to suggest an increase in reports of missing children on Halloween, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
FIRE AND DEVIL'S NIGHT
Candles are often used for spooky decor and to light pumpkins. Be mindful if kids in billowy costumes are nearby.
But the fact is, according to Dr. John Hall, division director of the National Fire Protection Association, "there is no localized spike in reported fire injuries around Halloween."
In past years, there has been a phenomenon called "Devil's Night," especially in the Detroit area, of arson at abandoned properties. A 2005 report from the U.S. Fire Administration noted that "on Halloween, and the night before, incendiary and suspicious structure fires are about 60 percent more frequent than on an average day." But the number of fires has been decreasing thanks to community and police patrols and other efforts. In 1984, more than 800 fires were started in Detroit during the Halloween period, compared to 169 in 2010 and 94 last year.