No holiday conjures up all of America’s deepest darkest fears more than Halloween. There are many sources of Halloween terror, such as razor blades in apples, cyanide in Pixie Stix, needles in Snickers bars, sex predators lurking in dark doorways, psychos with chainsaws and kidnappers in parked vans. While the vast majority of Halloween horror stories are exaggerated and unfounded, the real dangers are fires, hand injuries caused by carving pumpkins and traffic accidents.
Since the 1970s, Halloween safety has focused on the fear of contaminated candy. In 1970, 5-year-old Kevin Toson died from a heroin overdose. A few days later, officials found that the boy hadn’t eaten heroin-laced candy, as originally believed. Rather, he had accidentally gotten into his uncle’s heroin stash and the family had sprinkled heroin in the boy’s candy afterwards to protect the uncle.
Similarly, in 1974, 8-year-old Timothy Mark O’Bryan died from cyanide poisoned Pixie Stix in Houston, Texas. However, upon closer inspection, detectives found that the boy had in fact been poisoned by his own father. Even though these poisonings were far from random, parents still feared for their kids’ safety amid the Halloween fun.
Even though there are many urban legends surrounding Halloween, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, four children are struck and killed by cars each October 31st, which is four times the fatality rate on any other night. The statistics do not even include accidents that occur in driveways or on sidewalks, so the numbers are suspected to be higher.
Experts say kids in dark costumes and vision-obscuring Halloween masks dashing through the streets for delicious Halloween candy is a recipe for disaster. To protect the kids, costumes and candy bags should have bright reflecting tape on them, parents should accompany little ones and older kids should be given the pre-trick-or-treating huddle to discuss serious safety rules. Kids should be told not to run, to stay together at crosswalks and to carry a flashlight.
While the real danger of Halloween has been largely exaggerated, the urban legends and myths should not diminish the very real fears. From 1996-1998, there were 15,500 fires from October 30th – November 1st, causing 45 deaths, 175 injuries and $ 92 million in losses, reports the National Fire Protection Association.
They say that arson activity is 10% higher around Halloween, and there is the additional danger from unwatched jack-o-lanterns. To stay safe, parents should make sure their Halloween decorations (like dry corn stalks) are away from electrical outlets or live flames, with pumpkins illuminated by flashlights or bulbs rather than candles. Additionally, all kids costumes should be made of flame retardant materials.