Originally created 10/31/06

Dangers, distractions are many on Halloween night

Already having been spooked by people who sneaked up on him at a haunted house event in Aiken, Garrett Whitfield was at Fat Man's Forest on Monday plotting his revenge.

Standing by an Edvard Munch-style mask from the Scream horror movies that he'll be wearing tonight with a dark costume, 7-year-old Garrett said stealth is part of his plan to scare his friends.

"It helps people not to see you so you can come up and scare 'em," he said. "All of a sudden you pop up (and yell) 'Boo.'"

His subterfuge, however, might be compromised by his trick-or-treat companion.

"Where he goes, his mother is with him, and she usually has a flashlight," said Rita Whitfield, his grandmother.

Dark costumes like Garrett's are just one of the worries that safety experts have during a holiday celebrating mischief and mayhem.

"The biggest mistake would be not having your child be visible enough," said Rene Hopkins, the coordinator for Safe Kids East Central at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center.

Those witches and Harry Potter wannabes might favor dark clothing or frilly, loose princess regalia, without thinking about the consequences.

"We all want our kids to look as cute as they could be, but the costumes really aren't necessarily made for safety," said Martha Garner, the director of emergency services at Doctors Hospital. "They're often not made with fire-retardant materials."

That can mean trouble with a candle-lit jack-o'-lantern, she said.

"It just really sets everything up for disaster because those little costumes can just go up in flames in a moment," Mrs. Garner said.

By far the biggest problem is on the roads. From 2001 to 2005, 21 pedestrians under the age of 20 were killed by motor vehicles on Halloween night, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"There's a fourfold greater incidence of kids getting hit and killed by cars on Halloween night than other nights of the year," said Carolyn Cairns, the senior project leader for Consumer Reports magazine, which recommends reflective tape and flashlights with costumes.

Even well-taught children under 12 need supervision because the holiday can take them over, Mrs. Hopkins said.

"They're not thinking about, 'Slow down, look for trouble, be prepared,'" she said. "They're thinking about, 'Get to the next house, get more candy.'"

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

Keep your children safe tonight

- Masks can limit vision. Some parents recommend using face paint instead.

- Add reflective tape or tags to costumes. Go for bright colors. Carry a flashlight or glow sticks or wear glow bracelets.

- Children under 12 should be accompanied by an adult.

- Shoes that fit well are vital.

- Make sure costumes fit well and do not have droopy sleeves or are too long, which can create a trip hazard.

- Polyester and nylon and other flame-retardant materials are best for costumes.

- Swords and other accessories should be flexible in case of a fall.

- Giving children a snack before they go out reduces the temptation to dip into the bag right away.

- Parents should inspect all candy. For those worried about what's inside the candy, University Hospital is offering to X-ray candy from 5 to 9 tonight. Go to the front entrance of the hospital and then up to Radiology on the second floor.

Sources: Safe Kids East Central at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, Doctors Hospital, University Hospital, Consumer Reports


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