Kids' Sleds Fun but Not Harmless

Safety Recommendations From British ER Docs

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 19, 2003 -- Sleds can be dangerous toys. Is it time for helmets and protective clothing?

Yes, says a team of U.K. emergency-room doctors. During last year's first snowfall, J.G. Cooper and colleagues treated 46 young sledding accident victims in the emergency room of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Their report appears in the November issue of the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Among the 49 injuries (some kids had more than one):

  • Five broken legs
  • Two broken ankles
  • Four head injuries, three requiring hospital observation
  • Four broken arms
  • One broken collarbone
  • Two broken toes

Eight of the kids were admitted to the hospital; 12 had to return for outpatient visits. Overall, there were lots of broken bones but no deaths, although sledding deaths have been seen in the past.

How did they do it?

  • 14 kids fell off their sleds.
  • 12 kids had collisions with trees, fences, etc.
  • 5 kids had collisions with other sleds, other sledders, or pedestrians.
  • Four kids twisted their foot under their sleds.
  • Two kids put their limbs out to stop their sleds.
  • Two kids fell while pulling or running after their sled.
  • Two kids cut their hands on the edge of their sleds.

The kids' ages ranged from 2 to 13 years, with an average age of 8 1/2. Slightly more than half were boys.

In the U.K., sleds are called sledges. Most of those used by the kids were of the plastic variety, although one injured child was using a skateboard.

"Sledges travel fast, are difficult to steer and hard to brake," Cooper and colleagues write. "They are often driven by young novices on slopes that are crowded, unprepared, and unsupervised. Despite the free availability of sledges and the uncontrolled access to what can be a very high-speed activity, there seems to be little awareness that sledging is a potentially dangerous activity and few safety precautions are taken."

The doctors recommend:

  • Kids should wear protective clothing, especially helmets and heavy gloves.
  • There should be adult supervision at all times.
  • Sled slopes should be free of all immovable obstacles. The bottom of the slope should have enough room for the sled to stop without rapid braking.
  • Communities should consider roping off popular sled slopes so that kids aren't going down the same part of the hill other kids are coming up.
  • Sled only on sleds -- not on skateboards, plastic bags, service trays, etc.
  • Safe sledding instructions should come with every new sled. Teachers and doctors should hand out safe-sledding leaflets to kids and parents.

"With the introduction of a few simple and common-sense safety requirements, hopefully this winter pastime may become a lot safer without detracting from the obvious enjoyment it gives to children," Cooper and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Cooper, J.G. Emergency Medicine Journal, November 2003; vol 20: pp 538-539.