WASHINGTON, D. C. (Wednesday, October 28, 2020) –– As if 2020 weren't scary enough, this weekend Washington area residents will face a trifecta of threatening traffic safety troubles and woes. This “witches’ brew” includes drunk/drugged/buzzed driving, drowsy driving, and “dusk and darkness” increased risks to pedestrians and cyclists. All of this unholy triad converges this Halloween weekend, warns AAA. The ghostly holiday falls on a Saturday this year, followed a few short hours later by the “falling back” of the “clockwork universe,” ahem, clock, at the surcease of Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. Sunday, November 1.
As the nation and the world grapple with the “third wave” of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Halloween will look a lot different this year for trick-or-treaters and adults who go “bump in the night.” The District government is warning kids: “No trick-or-treating as usual,” local news headlines blare.
“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is forewarning.
That, coupled with the traffic danger risks posed by Halloween and the switch from Daylight Saving Time, will pose grave concerns for children, parents, impaired drivers, partiers, pedestrians, cyclists, drowsy drivers, and anyone else on the road this weekend, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“The last place you would want to end up this Halloween weekend is in the hospital, or the morgue or in jail, for that matter,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “With the coronavirus pandemic surging, and cases and hospitalizations mounting, traffic safety must become the highest priority on roadways. Motorists must eliminate distractions, slow down and watch for children, as well as have a completely sober designated driver if drinking is part of a Halloween celebration.”
Those warnings are unlikely to deter adult hobgoblins and their ghoul fiends from a big night of Halloween partying. Some venues are hosting “Halloween bar parties” for the monster squad, billed as a “multi-level sensory overload costume bash with stiff drinks.”
However, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) has announced the suspension of its 2020 Halloween SoberRide® campaign in the Greater Washington area due to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions.
On this Halloween night area roadways can quickly become the “road to perdition.” This makes it an imperative for buzzed Halloween partiers to designate a sober driver before the big bash, or plan to use public transportation or a ride service to get home safely after doing the “Monster Mash.”
That’s the safest plan, even if you’ve had only one drink.
“Double, double toil and trouble,” goes the song of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Halloween is a night for double toil and trouble for the parents of young trick-or-treaters. That is because “children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year,” warn the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the National Safety Council (NSC).
On top of that, “On Halloween, the number of pedestrian accident deaths involving children is four times that of an average day,” research reveals. “Lack of visibility because of low lighting at night also plays a factor in these incidents.”
Then there is an increased risk of pedestrian crashes on Halloween night involving adult revelers. Two-thirds - 76 percent - of pedestrian fatalities “occur after dark,” including five recent pedestrian fatalities on Indian Head Highway (Maryland 210).
During 2019, 92 pedestrians and 7 cyclists were killed across the Washington metro area, reports the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. “This comprises nearly one third of all traffic fatalities (305) across the region.” This compares to 77 pedestrian deaths in the region in 2017.
Prince George’s County is an epicenter for lethal pedestrian episodes in the Washington metro area and across Maryland. A third of the region’s pedestrian deaths befell Prince George’s County in 2019. Last year, 30 pedestrians perished on roadways across the county.
This compares to 17 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County; 14 pedestrian mortalities in Montgomery County; and 12 pedestrian deaths in the District.
There is a third traffic safety concern this Halloween weekend after the bewitching hours. Daylight Saving Time ends just a few hours after Halloween, giving tired trick-or-treaters and party-goers an extra hour of sleep as clocks “fall back” to standard time. Ominously, “more people are killed by cars after Daylight Saving Time changes than at any other time of the year, according to data from experts nationwide.” At the stroke of 2 a.m. this Sunday, November 1, 2020, clocks will be mysteriously turned backward one hour.
That means sunrise and sunset will be about one hour earlier on November 1, than the day before.
On the first day of the work week, it will be lighter in the morning, and darkness will creep up earlier in the evening. So for safety’s sake, area motorists should also be prepared for potential challenges, such as changes in sleep patterns that may increase chances of drowsy driving and shorter days which means driving home in the dark, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“Few motorists realize the added dangers that can come as the result of a time change – especially when they are behind the wheel,” Townsend commented. “Although we gain an hour of sleep, our sleep patterns are disrupted. This can result in unsafe drowsy driving episodes.”
This year, Halloween occurs on a Saturday and on a “Rare Blue Moon,” a special full moon known as a “Hunter’s Blue Moon.” It’s an occurrence that “only happens every 18 to 19 years,” explains The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Law enforcement officials are warning: “Even with the ongoing Pandemic, it is recognized that this year’s holiday falls on a Saturday, and there will likely be a few more parties than usual — and more drunk drivers on the streets.”
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) found that more than half of pedestrian fatalities on Halloween occurred with the pedestrian outside of a marked crosswalk during 2017.
Consider these haunting figures:
Despite warnings from medical professionals and public health officials, “more than 148 million U.S. adults plan to participate in Halloween-related activities,” says this year’s annual Halloween survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF).
“Among those celebrants, safe at-home activities ranked highest: 53 percent plan to decorate their homes, 46 percent plan to carve a pumpkin and 18 percent will dress up their pet.”
“If you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person Halloween festivities and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters,” warns the CDC.
Creative costumes, trick-or-treating and bags full of goodies become top Halloween priorities, but safety often becomes an afterthought. Excitable trick-or-treaters can forget about safety, so drivers, party-goers and parents must be even more alert, as the risk of kids being injured by moving vehicles increases.
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