Sledding Safely

Each year 35,000 children across the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sledding injuries.

The child's position on the sled is related to the type of injury. Children under 5 suffer the most severe injuries to the head, neck, face and abdomen. These children typically ride a metal runner sled, laying on their stomachs and controlling the steering mechanism with their hands. Injuries most commonly occur when sled and rider collide with a tree or a telephone pole. Hands and fingers are often injured when caught under the runners, or between the sled and another object.

Older children tend to ride sleds, toboggans and inner tubes in a sitting position. A hard bump on rough terrain can send the rider up in the air and down again with great force. Because of their position on the vehicle, these riders often suffer injuries to the spine and risk spinal cord injury. Limb injuries also are more common in older children who tend to use their arms and legs to break a fall or avoid an obstacle.

The high incidence of sledding injuries is related to a dangerous combination of speed (sleds can easily reach 10-20 mph), bumpy or icy terrain, a steep hill, lack of good control and obstacles in the sledder's course. The challenge is, if you take too much out of this equation, you're not sledding.

Suggested Safety Measures

1. Select children's downhill vehicle carefully.

Sleds without a steering mechanism are the most dangerous since the rider has no way of avoiding objects in his or her path.
Consider a metal runner sled over a plastic sled. Runner sleds elevate the rider off the ground and away from small, stationary objects. A plastic sled, by nature of its design, will strike anything in its path.


2. Always inspect the terrain of the hill before allowing children to use it.

The terrain should be smooth. A bumpy hill may throw the rider into the air or off the sled, causing the child to land on the ground or in the path of another speeding sled.

Avoid hills with trees, telephone poles, large rocks or fences on the slope or at the base of the slope. Hills should be wide and free of obstructions.
Avoid hills whose slope ends at a road or area with motor vehicle traffic.
Avoid sledding on icy surfaces. A slick surface increases the speed of the sled while further reducing the rider's control.


3. Encourage young children to sled feet first

This is the best way to protect children from crashing or being thrown head first at 10-20 mph.


4. Dress children appropriately

Children should wear insulated, waterproof boots and gloves and well-padded clothing. Protective helmets are a must. Kids are used to wearing helmets for other activities. Sledding should be added to the list.


5. Supervise children and talk with them about sledding safety

Children who understand the risks are more likely to exercise good judgment when sledding, and less likely to be reckless.


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