UI expert: Distracted walking could put trick-or-treaters at risk

IOWA CITY — Most of us have heard how dangerous distracted driving can be, and how the number-one distraction is our phones, but distracted walking can be equally as deadly, especially with Halloween tonight.

Elizabeth O’Neal, a professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Community and Behavioral Health, says parents should tell their kids to leave their phones alone while they’re trick-or-treating, or else they may get so distracted, they endanger themselves in traffic.

“All of us have seen it, if not engaged in it,” O’Neal says. “We have these handy little computers that we walk around with in our pockets, and a lot of the time, they are drawing our attention away from the task at hand — when we’re crossing roads.”

Most parents have drilled into their kids’ heads to look both ways before crossing a street, but O’Neal says that’s only two-thirds of a vital lesson.

“We always need to look left to the traffic that’s going to be closest to us when we’re crossing the roadway, look right to see traffic that’s coming in the farthest point, and then look left again,” O’Neal says, “because things that are in that traffic lane that are closest to us can change quickly. So, making sure the kids are looking left, right, and left again, is going to be really important.”

When trick-or-treating — and every day — O’Neal says we need to cross roads at a place where drivers are expecting pedestrians to be.

“So that’s going to be at intersections, corners, marked crosswalks,” O’Neal says, “and when possible, always crossing at a marked crosswalk or an intersection with a pedestrian crossing light.”

It’s said there’s safety in numbers, and there’s more visibility in numbers, but O’Neal says if your costumed kids are trick-or-treating in a group, they may be more prone to tricks, and trouble.

“As pedestrians, children are riskier when they’re in the presence of a peer, and when they’re engaging in the task with a peer, so at that age, it’s pretty rewarding to do risky things when you’re with your friends,” O’Neal says. “So encouraging your kids to make sure that they are crossing at those marked crosswalks, not darting across the street in the middle of the block.”

If the kids protest and don’t want adult chaperones, parents can keep tabs on the location of their little goblins by using GPS phone trackers or Apple Air Tags.