Simplifying Science

Making Halloween Safer by Going Cell-Free

There are lots of things we do to maximize our children’s safety on Halloween. We make sure that their Halloween costumes are free of adornments that can double as choking risks, long ties that can cause strangulation, and dangling hemlines that equal tripping hazards. We have learned to look for toxic chemicals in our face paints and to make sure that masks fit properly so that they don’t obstruct vision.

We weed through our kids’ loot, making sure that every piece of candy is virginal—perfectly wrapped and unadulterated. We hastily remove anything homemade or even potentially homemade, anything punctured, ripped, crinkled, or crumbling.

Some parents stick reflective tape to the outside of the costumes so that cars can see them more easily. Others arm their children with glow sticks or flashlights. We hold hands crossing the street and we insist on using the crosswalk.

If you think you do everything you can to maximize your child’s safety, you are wrong. Because you haven’t put down your cell phone yet.

There are 330,000 car accidents every year in this country as a direct result of using cell phones, and 2,600 fatalities. Talking on the phone while driving distracts. Dialing, texting, checking email all take your eyes off the road. Even if it is just for an instant, that instant can have major consequences. On Halloween you know there will be scores of kids walking through neighborhoods starting before dusk and extending into the night. On Halloween, even more than any other night, you know you should stay off your phone while you drive. Kids are four times more likely to be hit by a car on Halloween even though everyone who is on the road anticipates there will be little guys dodging in and out of parked cars or crossing driveways. So put down your cell phone.

And for parents who think this doesn’t apply to them because they won’t be behind the wheel of the car but instead will be walking with their kids, traveling door to door for the ritual candy collection, you need to put down your phones too. Your job is to watch your children, hold their hands, look both ways before crossing the street and all of that other business. You cannot do that while emailing or texting, no matter how good you think you are at multitasking.

Our generation of parents is exceptionally good at worrying about every little danger. We can debate the pros and cons of vaccines (or soy or BPA in plastics) until the cows come home. We are less good at taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. This Halloween, get better at it. Go back in time 15 or 20 years when we didn’t have technical distractions in the palm of our hands. For one day—for the one day that kids are out in the street in droves—remember that you don’t need to be talking or texting at every possible moment.

And then maybe try it again on November 1st