By Johnny Jackson
Between preparing for this weekend's Pep Boys Auto 500 race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the regular day-to-day business of the Hampton Police Department, Police Chief Rad Porter and members of the department managed to make time to do something for the children.
The police department is one of several businesses and organizations in downtown Hampton, who will take part in the annual "Halloween in Hampton" event. The event, to be held from 4-7 p.m., on Oct. 31, is organized by the City of Hampton and the Hampton Merchants Association, a group of Hampton businesses, who provide the area's children with a safe trick-or-treating alternative.
It is one of several similar community events throughout the Southern Crescent created to offer safe alternatives to neighborhood trick-or-tricking.
"Last year, the police department gave more than 300 bags of candy out to children," said Porter, remarking on the annual event's increased popularity. In 2006, the department handed out 150 bags of treats. This year, the department is preparing to have as many as 600 children attend "Halloween in Hampton."
"It's just a little safer," he added. Hampton Police will be on hand at the event as security and help at the downtown intersections. Officers will also be patrolling to be sure the children are safe elsewhere in the city.
Officials continue to urge trick-or-treaters and party-goers, wherever they are, to be safe and cautious this Halloween.
"If children go out, adults need to be with them," Porter said. "Have flash lights and stay on the side walks when you're trick-or-treating, and stay in groups."
Homeowners should check their outdoor lighting to make sure their property is adequately lit before trick-or-treaters arrive [Use artificial lighting instead of candles to reduce the risk of fire-related injuries]. Inspect the property and make sure the path to the door is safe, removing those obstacles or decorations that can lead to a trip or fall. Residents should also keep their pets indoors during peak trick-or-treating hours.
Drivers should use extra caution when driving, watching for the unexpected along the roadway. Officials also urge party-goers to make advance travel plans to stay safe.
The number of motor vehicle fatalities on Halloween rises an average of 30 percent, to 151 deaths, when Oct. 31 is on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, compared to other days of the week, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
"With Halloween falling on a Friday this year, the traffic dangers are that much greater because of the increase in the mix of children, pedestrians and motorists on the road," said Leticia Messam, AAA manager of traffic safety programs. "Historic data shows a more than minimal increase in the number of fatalities and injuries when Halloween occurs on a weekend. Both pedestrians and motorists need to take special measures to ensure the safety of everyone."
Two out of three adults, ages 18 to 24, plan to throw or attend a Halloween party this year, according to the National Retail Federation, and 93 percent of children are expected to go trick-or-treating, reports the National Confectioners Association.
AAA's safety tips for trick-or-treaters and parents
· Select highly visible costumes. Look for light, bright and reflective costumes that make trick-or-treaters easy to see. Add reflective tape to costumes and buckets and bags to increase visibility. Also, rather than wearing a mask which may restrict vision, opt for face painting instead.
· Make sure costumes fit well and nothing comes loose or might cause a child to trip. Check that wigs or other accessories do not obstruct the child's view.
· Review safety precautions with children. Include traffic-safety rules in the review, such as stay on the sidewalk, cross the street at crosswalks, avoid walking in front of, behind or between parked cars and stop at driveways to make sure no vehicles are coming in and out.
· Plan trick-or-treating route and supervision in advance. Avoid areas with heavy vehicle traffic and look for well-lit streets with sidewalks. Make arrangements for an adult or a responsible teen to accompany younger trick-or-treaters.
· Get a flashlight with fresh batteries. A flashlight can help trick-or-treaters see and be seen, but it should never be directed at someone's eyes including those of passing motorists.
AAA's safety tips for party-goers and hosts
· Make plans to get home safely. If intending to consume alcohol, make plans to get home safely by selecting a designated driver, or ensuring cab service is available from the party location.
· Consider an overnight stay. If attending a party at a friend's home, consider asking to stay overnight. If participating in festivities in a downtown or commercial area, look into hotel accommodations within walking distance. Many hotels offer special Halloween weekend rates and promotions.
· Have safe transportation options ready. If hosting a party with alcohol, compile a list of phone numbers including local cab companies and organizations offering designated driver services to have readily available should guests need a safe way home.
· Try to avoid cutting through residential areas that will likely have a large number of trick-or-treaters. If providing directions to a party, make surße to not route guests through residential areas unnecessarily.
· Take care of designated drivers and offer alternatives to alcohol. Plan to have non-alcoholic drink options available for designated drivers and others. Serve plenty of food so partygoers do not drink on empty stomachs.
Check the upcoming editions of the newspaper to find safe trick-or-treating activities near you.