Car Culture: Halloween can be a scary time for drivers

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

It’s that spooky time of year again, with rustling leaves, foggy mornings and dew-drenched spider webs setting the perfect backdrop for eerie happenings and scary fun. Who doesn’t love the scent of a bonfire, fake graveyards erupting on neighborhood lawns and piles of pumpkin offering a cheerful note as the curtain lowers on another great Michigan summer?

Cue the staccato synthesized tones of the “Halloween” soundtrack and the annual retelling of spine-tingling auto-related urban legends like “The Hook” and “The Vanishing Hitchhiker.” Good times.

But the next week or so also is fraught with goblins to plague those of us behind the wheel, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to assimilate the dangers and plan ahead to avoid them. Especially if you plan to dress like a zombie, knock back a few Zombies or just feel like one during your commute.

With more pedestrians afoot — excited, distracted and perhaps vision-impaired by masks and headgear — Halloween has a deadly angle: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed on Halloween as on other nights of the year, and pedestrian deaths as a percentage of all car-crash deaths has been in double-digits in recent years. In 2012, NHTSA says, 28 percent of all car-related fatalities on Halloween were people on foot, and in 2011 it was a whopping 34 percent. That compares to 14 percent on a typical day, and most pedestrians are killed after dark.

It’s easy for drivers to be distracted by over-the-top outdoor decorations, the shifting patterns of sunlight and shade and the pressures of the busy fall season. But you might want to flick those headlights on earlier than usual, crack a window the better to hear any approaching voices and be extra vigilant in neighborhoods and on busy streets.

And trick-or-treaters bear some responsibility too, as NHTSA points out — to carry flashlights, wear reflective materials, avoid jaywalking and stop at driveways and crosswalks.

Meanwhile, with Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, spirits of all kinds might be amped up and that means more drunken drivers on the road, and police agencies are bracing for a heavy-duty party weekend. I notice lots of attorneys who specialize in driving-while-impaired defense are proactively sending out advisories featuring Halloween-related cautions.

If you’re in the mood for some devil’s brew but don’t want to spend Nov. 1 sporting one of those stylish orange jumpsuits — or worse, the retro black and white striped model — you might want to plan ahead with a designated driver, car service or at-home festivities. If you’re price-sensitive, beware of holiday surcharges; Uber for example made headlines the last couple of years when high Halloween demand triggered the company’s “surge pricing” and drove fares up; news reports and social media rants said hapless Halloweeners were paying upward of $350 for short rides home.

And the words of warning don’t just apply to those in the driver’s seat; Halloween is deadly for on-foot imbibers as well. On Halloween a higher percentage of car crashes involve drunken drivers, for sure, but a third of pedestrians who lost their lives in 2012 also were well over the legal limit.

Motor vehicles are great fun and so is Halloween — and so is that cauldron of mulled wine or your potion of choice — but when they all converge in the same evening, the outcome is bound to be scary.

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