The Medical Minute: There's no trick to a SAFE Halloween

By Susan Rzucidlo, M.S.N., R.N.

Halloween is supposed to be a spooky night, but parents don’t have to be scared about their kids’ safety if they follow some simple safety tips from Safe Kids Dauphin County, led by Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. It’s essential for parents to prepare their children properly to stay safe while trick-or-treating: On average, twice as many child pedestrians are killed while walking on Halloween compared to other days of the year.

New Safe Kids USA research shows only one third of parents talk to their children annually about Halloween safety. According to the study, 40 percent of parents allow their child to use one or more unsafe item on Halloween such as a mask, loosing fitting clothing or a sharp object -- any of which could contribute to falls, burns or pedestrian injuries.

Another key finding of this report shows 12 percent of children five years of age or younger are permitted to trick-or-treat alone. Not only should these young children be accompanied by an adult, but it is also recommended by Safe Kids that no child under 12 years of age spend Halloween night navigating the streets unsupervised. This recommendation was made to protect children who often lack the maturity and cognitive ability to make appropriate decisions to accurately judge speeds and distance.

There are simple ways to keep you and your child safe on Halloween. The excitement of the day can sometimes lead to more distractions and forgetting about being safe. Parents must also remind kids to:

--Cross streets safely. Cross at a corner, using traffic signals and crosswalks. Try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them. Look left, right and left again when crossing, and keep looking as you cross. Walk, don’t run, across the street.

--Walk on well lit sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible. Children should walk in familiar areas with minimal street crossings. Plan a safe route ahead of time.

--Be a safe pedestrian around cars. Watch for cars that are turning or backing up. Never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.

--Make sure they are safe treats. Tell children to bring their treats home before eating them. Check treats for signs of tampering before children are allowed to eat them. Candy should be thrown away if the wrapper is faded, torn, or unwrapped.

--Make sure to carry a flashlight, glow stick or reflective tape on the costume so you and your child are more visible. Don’t shine the flashlight at the driver.

--Remind your child to not go into any homes and to not cut through alleys or fields.

--Vandalism is against the law. Throwing eggs or doing other things that can damage a home is a crime and don’t think that you won’t get caught.

Drivers also need to do their part to keep trick-or-treaters safe from harm. Safe Kids also reminds motorists to be extra careful this Halloween and recommends that drivers:

--Be especially alert. Remember that popular trick-or-treating hours are during the typical rush-hour period between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.

--Drive more slowly. Children are excited on Halloween and may move in unpredictable ways.

--Lights on. Be sure to drive with your full headlights on so you can spot children from greater distances.

--Do NOT drink and drive. Halloween week is one of the highest for driving under the influence arrests and alcohol related crashes.

--Don’t use a cell phone or other electronic devices that may distract you while driving. This is a good idea all the time as many crashes are while the driver is texting or on the phone while driving.

--Don’t pass vehicles that are stopped as they could be dropping off children.

Safety tips for costumes:

--Costumes should be flame retardant and bright enough to make children more visible.

--Make costumes short enough to avoid tripping. Decorate costumes and treat bags with retro reflective tape and stickers.

--Dress children in shoes that fit. Wearing adult shoes can lead to falls.

--Allow children to carry only flexible knives, swords or other props.

--Avoid costumes made of flimsy material and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts. These are more likely to come in contact with an exposed flame, such as a candle, than tighter fitting costumes.

--Apply face paint or cosmetics directly to the face. If a mask is worn, be certain it fits securely. Cut the eyeholes large enough for full vision.

For more tips on how to keep kids safe while walking on Halloween and throughout the year, visit www.safekids.org or to learn more about keeping your family safe at home, play and on the way, please contact Safe Kids Dauphin County, led by Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital at 717-531-SAFE (7233).

Susan Rzucidlo, M.S.N., R.N., is the pediatric trauma program manager at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and coordinator of Safe Kids Dauphin County.

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Last Updated October 28, 2011