- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

The witches, goblins and vampires that will be roaming the streets tonight aren't the scariest parts of Halloween, some local officials said yesterday.
Statistics for the mid-Atlantic region show that more alcohol-related fatal car accidents occur on Halloween than on any other night of the year, including New Year's Eve. Additionally, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that roughly four times as many children ages 5 to 14 are killed while walking on Halloween than on any other evening of the year.
The traffic incidents have parents and public officials taking extra care in protecting trick-or-treaters.
Debby Brown, an area mother of a third-grader and a sixth-grader, said she walks door to door with her children as they fetch candy and only in familiar areas. She believes she is keeping her children safe by taking those steps.
"When you have children with masks on that can impair their vision and drivers who aren't changing their traffic patterns, it makes sense," she said of the greater number of children injured while traversing streets on Halloween.
Police said parents need to use common-sense precautions by having their children wear something bright or reflective on their costumes, trick-or-treat while it is relatively light outside and carry flashlights.
Parents should make sure their children stay in groups, inspect candy to make sure it is wrapped fully and tell youngsters to stay away from strangers' homes.
Attempting to curb an increase in alcohol-related accidents, Washington Regional Alcohol Program, WRAP, is offering free taxi rides home for those who have imbibed too much. Between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., partygoers who are at least 21 can call one of several local cab companies throughout the metropolitan Washington area.
Since 1993, WRAP has provided 18,875 free taxi rides 174 last year to persons who otherwise would have driven home impaired, said Kurt Gregory Erickson, WRAP president.
SoberRide, in which cabs can go the distance that $50 would take someone on any given night, is available in the District, throughout Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, eastern Loudoun and Prince William.
"Halloween is no longer just a holiday for children," Mr. Erickson said. "As you get closer to the weekend, you're going to have more older people going to parties" and often overindulging in alcohol.
Camille Smith, supervisor of the radio room at District Cab, said the cabdrivers frequently witness reckless driving on holidays like Halloween. She said the service will be even more helpful if the rain continues tonight, as drivers fearing sloppy conditions may be compelled to stay off the road.
"It keeps a lot of people safe, and it keeps a lot of people alive," Miss Smith said.
Showers are expected only in the morning, meaning more children may be out in the evening. The forecast high for the day is 51 degrees, and the sun will set about 5:10 p.m.
D.C. police will maintain a sobriety checkpoint tonight in the District. Impaired-driving arrests have increased in the D.C. area in the past two years, largely because of additional checkpoints, said Lt. Patrick Burke, traffic safety coordinator for the Metropolitan Police Department.
"You've really got to be desperate to get into a car with all of the other options," Mr. Burke said.
Although the traffic dangers are undeniable, the perennial fear of tainted or tampered candy is unfounded, says an academic who researched the issue based on his skepticism of the urban legend.
Professor Joel Best, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Delaware, studied deviant behavior and concluded it was unreasonable to suspect people of poisoning candy.
He pored over issues of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune from as far back as 1958 and found no coverage of such incidents. Three reports of children poisoned from Halloween candy subsequently were proven false, his report says.

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