Dec. 14, 2000 -- Medical personnel and government agencies fear that this holiday season may not be so merry because of a small, lightweight aluminum contraption that has youngsters' eyes all aglow. The CDC on Thursday issued findings that in the first 10 months of this year, almost 28,000 people have been injured on unpowered scooters and two people have died.
In September alone, more than 8,600 people were treated in emergency rooms around the country due to crashes involving the two-wheeled vehicles. This was 18 times more than the number reported by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sources just a few months earlier. The agency reported recently that as of mid-November, more than 30,000 scooter-related injuries were seen at the nation's emergency medical facilities.
Because of the skyrocketing popularity of the new-age scooters -- now seen everywhere from television and newspaper advertisements to the aisles of your local market -- the agencies, along with medical experts, believe that the injury rate will dramatically increase even more as wrapping paper is ripped open over the next few weeks.
In fact, the Toy Manufacturers of America says the plaything was the best seller in September, and overall this year, Americans will buy between 2 and 5 million of the gizmos. In contrast, in 1999, sales in this country were virtually zero.
The safety commission and the CDC report 29% of the injuries reported around the country were fractures and dislocations, 70% of those to the arm or hand. Cuts contributed 24%, cuts and bruises 22%, and strains/sprains 14%. An adult died when he fell and struck his head while showing his daughter how to ride the scooter, and a 6-year-old boy was killed after he rode into traffic and a car hit him. The commission says that 85% of all the reported injuries on scooters have been to children under the age of 15.
Just last week, the commission issued a recall announcement for two models of scooters, the Kickin' Mini-Scooters by Kent International Inc. and the Racer X20 by Kash 'N Gold. Both of these had a problem with the handlebars separating, causing the rider to lose control and fall, according to the statement.
Medical experts say that it doesn't take a design flaw to cause injuries on the souped-up version of its 1950s rather benign wide, usually red, metal predecessor.
"I'm nervous that with the Christmas season coming and it being one of the hottest selling items, it's going to become a major problem," says Robert Wiebe, medical director of Children Medical Center of Dallas' emergency department. "They're fast, and little kids are riding them. It will become as much of a problem as bikes."
He tells WebMD that currently his medical staff sees about one scooter injury every couple of weeks, usually the worst being arm and wrist fractures. Wiebe suspects there may be more injuries in the city's outlying areas. He also believes the seriousness of the accidents also will increase as the popularity of the item does.
"Serious injuries are the ones I'm worried about, when kids are running into cars or hooking the scooters on the back of a bus, or bike, or car," Wiebe says.
Maggie Huey, RN, director of emergency services at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, echoes Wiebe's sentiments. "We're seeing a number of scooter injuries, but it hasn't reached the proportion of bicycle accidents yet," she tells WebMD. "We've had 39 so far this year, but as the prevalence of the scooters goes up, so will the injuries."
Most of the youngsters who come to Cook for treatment after a scooter accident have been injured because they aren't wearing protective gear and/or they are not old enough to be "proficient at operating" the scooters, Huey says.
"The scooters and wheels are smaller than the older versions that were popular when I was a kid," Huey recalls. "They are lighter and faster; that's how they're advertised, and that's what the kids want. But they are so fast the kid doesn't have time to jump off before a crash occurs."
A big problem is that kids can't control the scooters and they even run over smaller children because they can't stop. In addition, youngsters ride the little sliver of metal over rough pavement. "They have to stay away from pavement that has grooves and cracks and bumps; scooters don't handle that well," Huey says. She recalls one child who was injured when the cement pavement merged into a bricked area - when the scooter hit it, "the kid went head over heels."
Angela Mickalide, PhD, program director for the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, agrees that control is a problem. "Parents have a false sense of security because the scooters have handlebars and they are low to the ground. They think that because they have handlebars, [the scooters] are easy to control," she says.
Huey and Wiebe say when children are injured on the scooters because they weren't wearing helmets and knee and elbow pads, their parents seem to have a "it won't happen to my child" attitude -- until it does.
"That's an appropriate and expected attitude for a child, but not for an adult," Huey says.
Wiebe says that "you can't make a kid live in a bubble," but he and Huey agree that children must wear protective padding and head protection. They also say that children under 8 should not ride a scooter without supervision of a responsible teenager or adult and that the area where they ride should be restricted -- never including the street. Huey also suggests that children aged 5 and under shouldn't ride the scooters at all because they don't have the coordination or strength to handle them.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign says that protective gear should fit properly and not interfere with the rider's movement, vision, or hearing. What to gear up with? "We urge that they wear knee and elbow pads and helmets. However, we have received a number of calls that wrist protectors make it harder for kids to hold on to the handles," Mickalide says. As a matter of fact, SAFE KIDS no longer recommends wrist protectors.
They also recommend that parents check scooters thoroughly for loose, broken, or cracked parts; sharp edges and slippery surfaces where the child stands; and nicks and cracks in wheels.