Last minute tips for a safe Halloween

It's Halloween, and tonight marks the one time of year kids can dress up as their (or their parents) favorite characters and be rewarded for it in sweet, sweet candy.

But before you send your trick-or-treaters out for a night of fun and sugar jitters, it pays to take the time to review some safety precautions for the evening. Organizations such as the Center for Disease Control, Safe Kids, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offer a wealth of safety information for children and adults. Each one offers handy one-page cheat sheets loaded with tips.

While it has practically become a holiday tradition to fret over poison and razorblades in edibles, treat tampering is one of the least-supported Halloween hysterias in terms of confirmed reports. The origin of the fear may come from a 1964 case in which a Long Island woman handed out mundane packaged items—including steel wool and ant traps—to visitors she deemed "too old" to trick or treat. All of the items were inedible and clearly marked, but she was prosecuted for endangering children. The only confirmed death from intentional Halloween candy poisoning was 8-year-old Timothy O'Bryan in 1974. An investigation eventually uncovered the truth that the boy's own father had planted a cyanide Pixy Stick as part of a scheme to collect life insurance.

The real clear and present danger that all the safety organization seem to agree on is vehicle/pedestrian accidents. This year, State Farm insurance commissioned researcher Bert Sperling to analyze data from the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 1990 to 2010. Halloween averages 5.5 deaths a year from automobiles striking pedestrians, more than double the 2.6 death average seen on other days. The greatest portion of Halloween victims were 12- to 15-year-olds. More than 70 percent of the pedestrian fatalities took place away from an intersection or designated crosswalk.

So what can parents do? The key word is visibility.

The most dangerous hour for trick-or-treating deaths—6 to 7 p.m.—has already been lighter for the past six Halloweens due to the reassignment of Daylight Savings Time's end to Nov. 4. (Incidentally, the last six years of Halloween studied by Sperling all fell below the 5.5 death average).

A flashlight will up your child's visibility to others while allowing him to see more clearly as the neighborhood grows darker.

Reflective tape can also guard your child against traffic, reflecting back headlamp light brightly and clearly from a considerable distance. Be creative with your placement if you can (e.g. over a skeleton's bones or as a smart "racing" stripe on a superhero's unitard), but the important thing is to stick it where it can be seen.

NCMEC recommends children younger than 12 only go out with a parent, a trusted adult or an older sibling. They further recommend trick-or-treaters go out in a group and stick to familiar neighborhoods.

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