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Avoidable Injuries Continue in Winter Sports

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March 6, 2000 (Atlanta) -- High-speed snowmobile and ice hockey collisions often result in injury to the head, neck, and spine, according to two reports in the March issue of Pediatrics. Doctors call for education, legislation, and sportsmanship to help reduce injuries and deaths among children.

Snowmobiling is a very popular winter sport in the U.S. and around the world. Many consider it a family sport, so there is much concern that both parents and children be educated about injury prevention in snowmobiling.

In 1988, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published the following statement on snowmobiling: "Snowmobiles are inappropriate for use by children and young adolescents and should not be used by children younger than 16 years old." The AAP also recommended that riders over age 16 be licensed and that helmets be worn at all times.

Despite those recommendations more than a decade ago, snowmobile injuries continue. Because pediatric snowmobile trauma has not been studied in the United States, researchers reviewed almost 300 cases reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1990 and 1998. Snowmobile laws were reviewed in states that reported one or more deaths.

The data showed that 75% of all snowmobile incidents involved boys. Head and neck injuries, from collisions with stationary objects, were the most common cause of death. Non-fatal injuries, from vehicle ejection, included bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones, and sprains.

Legislative analysis revealed that age restrictions typically don't apply to snowmobile use on private property, where over 40% of all pediatric accidents occurred. Additionally, most states don't require protective helmets. The authors feel that new laws are necessary and appropriate.

"Legislators should consider enacting helmet laws, age restrictions, and speed limits like those for other motor vehicles," says lead author Manda Rice, research coordinator at Toledo Children's Hospital in Ohio. "Also, the maintenance of snowmobile trails should be funded with licensing and registration fees.

"But so far, the states haven't adopted [such restrictions]. And that's why we're encouraging doctors to advocate at the state and local levels," Rice tells WebMD.

"It's frustrating to see teen-agers with serious, long-term injuries from recreational snowmobile use," says Michael Bannon, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's surgical/trauma intensive care unit and assistant professor of surgery at the Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. "And snowmobile collisions can be just as devastating as high-speed automobile collisions."

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