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’Tis October, and the pumpkins, faux cobwebs and plastic tombstones already have sprouted on front lawns metro-wide, and community trick-or-treating events are mere weeks away.

Usually, cars and Halloween don’t mix very well.

The twilight ritual of little goblins, sci-fi characters and princesses scurrying through crisp leaves to gather loot from house to house is fraught with opportunities for excited children and distracted drivers to meet in a tragic way.

The advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide says tots and tykes are twice as likely to be killed by a car on Halloween from 4-10 p.m. than in those same hours on other days of the year. That’s based on statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But oddly, according to Safe Kids’ 2011 survey of parents about Halloween attitudes and activities, only 35 percent talk to their children about trick-or-treating safety. And 12 percent say it’s OK for kids age 5 and younger to go begging house-to-house without adult supervision.

Hmm. Those statistics make it even more imperative for those of us behind the wheel on Oct. 31 to slow down and keep an eye out for excited pedestrian partyers. Dial down the radio, turn headlights on earlier than usual and crack the window so you can hear the shouts and squeals of nearby children.

The dangers of traditional treat-seeking rituals are one reason for the burgeoning popularity of a new paradigm in which cars are the centerpiece, not the enemy. Trunk-or-treating events, as they are called, are sponsored by community groups and churches to give kids a new and controlled venue for begging loot. And in the case of the religious sponsors, it’s also a way of controlling the macabre imagery that people of some faiths find offensive; those organizers can mandate benign decoration motifs that leave out the ghosts, skeletons and devils.

I sort of agree with the author of the Free Range Kids blog, Lenore Skenazy, who argues on her site that eliminating the manic dash through the neighborhood defeats the real fun of Halloween, which includes a tinge of scariness and allows children an opportunity to overcome some fears. Making the event just about collecting a sack of “free food” diminishes it, she says.

But trunk-or-treat clearly serves its purpose for some people and the coolest part about it is the opportunity to indulge your creativity by creating a themed tableau at the back of your vehicle. And with October barely begun, you’ve still plenty of time to locate a trunk-or-treat event and get in on the fun. (No metro-wide directory appears to exist but check municipal and church websites.)

For a relatively new tradition, examples abound online. Check out Pinterest for ideas ranging from a shark-toothed cargo hatch to an SUV-turned-haunted mansion, complete with rickety picket fence around the vehicle.

When scares aren’t welcome, you still can go all out. One of the most impressive vignettes I saw online was a Christmas theme complete with fully-decorated artificial tree sprouting from the trunk, surrounded by a red tree skirt draped over the lip of the trunk, wrapped presents and garland galore. Dolls and reindeer nestled around the base of the tree while stockings hung from the upraised trunk lid.

Another toddler-friendly theme was an “animal clinic” bursting with stuffed dogs and cats. A giant web in another trunk housed the wise arachnid Charlotte from the famous children’s book, complete with plastic Wilbur, while the Flintstones held court in front of a boulder-filled pickup.

Don’t forget to costume yourself to match, and coordinate your giveaways with the motif. Christmas cookies from Santa, animal crackers from the “veterinarian” and plastic spider rings from Charlotte’s Web will add the perfect touch to your creative feat.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.net.

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