Tainted candy won’t hurt your kids on Halloween. Cars will.

As is the custom, millions of children in the United States will hit the streets this Halloween Trick or treat, dressed in suits. Also as usual, adults will be alarmed about the mostly mythical dangers that children may face. Once upon a time it was like that razor blades in apples; it is this year rainbow fentanyl in candy. But while he is afraid of children receiving treats with narcotic substances are unfoundedthere is a very real danger facing America’s children on this most sacred of nights: cars.

This is because pedestrians under 18 are three times more likely to be hit and killed by a car on Halloween than any other day of the year. That risk rises to 10 times more likely for children ages 4 to 8, according to 2019 survey in JAMA Pediatrics.

Halloween is the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrians.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

“You’re going to have an increased number of children, including younger children, who are on the street,” he said Lois Lee, professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. “At the same time, you have adults driving, and especially this year on Monday, people will be driving home from work. If the kids are in costume, they may be wearing darker clothing…making them harder to spot.

The JAMA Pediatrics study of 2019 confirms this, noting that Halloween “can increase the risk of pedestrian traffic as festivities take place at dusk, masks restrict peripheral vision, costumes limit visibility, street crossing safety is neglected, and some revelers are injured of alcohol.” It’s the kind of deadly combination that can turn a fun event into a deadly nightmare. Including elderly victims, the risk of death for all pedestrians is 43 percent higher on Halloween than on a normal night.

But what happens on Halloween is not an isolated incident. After gunshot woundsmotor vehicle injuries are second leading cause of death among US children in general. And with pedestrian deaths (adults and children) at a 40-year peak in the US, it is worth asking why children roaming the streets are so inherently deadly and what can be done about it.

“Sometimes when you talk about this problem, you get pushback from people and people say, ‘Well, of course you have more kids on the street, of course more kids are going to die,'” Doug Gordonwriter and podcast host who advocates for safer streets and cities, told me. “But that assumes a baseline level of danger that I think we as a society have actually assumed for the other 364 days of the year.”

There are wider reasons why streets have become even more dangerous for pedestrians recently. One is that drivers are distracted – not just by their phones, but increasingly by themselves infotainment systems which come as part of newer cars. A more pressing issue is the growing size of cars in the US; jeeps makeup half of all car sales in the USA and they are much more likely to kill pedestrians in crashes compared to smaller vehicles. “Mass times velocity is force,” Gordon summarized. “When you increase the mass of something, you increase the force with which it interacts with a small, vulnerable child.”

Lovers cross the street as they walk from house to house in Portland, Maine on Halloween 2019.
Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

But perhaps the biggest reason is that American streets and cities are like that designed for cars, not people. Like Charles Maron — founder and president of Strong Towns and expert in urban planning and civil engineering — solid, engineers who design streets prioritize getting cars as fast as possible from point A to point B above all else. one a recent example: A Utah traffic safety committee couldn’t find any way to make a five-lane school crossing safer for students other than simply removing the crosswalk entirely.

But there is much that can be done to make the streets safer for future Halloweens and every other day of the year. In the short term, cities can upgrade open streets programs introduced after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which include closing certain streets to vehicular traffic to provide more public space. In particular, New York announced a Trick or Treat plan. this will result in 100 car-free zones in effect from 4pm to 8pm on Halloween this year. And the Big Apple is not alone, like Henry Grabar reported to Slate: less populated and more car-dependent cities like St. Petersburg, Florida, and Seattle will too close the city center for Halloween or actually allows residents to apply for permits they can close their neighborhoods to vehicular traffic.

In the long run, Gordon believes that places around the US should be able to pass what is known as the ice cream test, where a child should be able to safely go to a store, buy a sweet, and return home before it melts down. Essentially, every city should be designed to be friendly and accessible to the most vulnerable in our communities. “If you start thinking that way, then I think you start thinking along the lines of what infrastructure is needed to make this possible, where would I feel comfortable letting my child do this,” Gordon said. “Halloween is like a giant version of the candy bar because it’s not just your kid, it’s every kid in the neighborhood.”

Designing safer streets for kids goes beyond safety—it would make for a better Halloween. “Having sidewalks and good lighting is a good preventative measure, not just for injury prevention, but for general health,” Lee told me, “because it encourages everyone in the neighborhood to walk, exercise, and get outside, which is more -good for everyone’s health too.”

And if their safety isn’t motivation enough, designing dense, walkable cities might even lead to bigger shipments of candy for the kids.

“When you build a city that’s safer so that kids can walk by themselves and not have to worry about being hit by a car, or parents have to worry about being hit by a car, it’s just more good,” said Gordon. “It’s great. They’re independent. It’s fun. And they get lots of candy on Halloween.