Ask Dr. Paul Library

Scooters are back and so are the associated injuries

DEAR DR.PAUL: My 10-year son has been begging me to buy him a scooter, saying that all his friends have one. I remember I had one as a child and it was fun, but are they safe? Any special precautions needed?

PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: You are one of many parents who are in the same predicament. Unfortunately many buy their kids scooters, but are unaware of the potential for injury.

Putting specifics aside, we know that more than 90% of childhood injuries are preventable. We also know that accidental injuries can be life threatening.

In children between the ages of five and nine the most common causes of unintentional injury are motor vehicle accidents (child passengers), pedestrian injury, drowning, and bicycle injuries. In older children the patterns are the same. As a result of bike injury rates, national programs were instituted to promote bicycle safety and specifically the use of bike helmets.

As this was happening, new activities emerged, and with those came a spectrum of new injuries. An example is in-line skating - a recreational activity that has become the fastest-growing recreational sport in children and teenagers. In the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 17.7 million people less than 18 years of age participated in in-line skating in 1996, a 24% increase from the previous year.

Along with the popularity came an increase in in-line-skating related injuries, with the most common being wrist injuries or fractures. Of course, as with any sport on wheels, head injury is also a real potential hazard. Subsequently, recommendations were made regarding preventative gear for safe skating. The recommended gear includes a helmet, wrist guards, knee pads and elbow pads. In addition, general safety measures such as avoiding busy streets, obeying traffic signs are recommended in all such similar activities.

When I saw this latest fad about scooters it brought me back to when I had a scooter as a child. The new versions are much cooler, sleeker and compact. Actually, they are promoted to be used by students going to school or from one class to another. The new scooters fold down and fit very nicely into a nap sack so they are easy to carry. Not surprisingly, their popularity is soaring.

But up until now there had been no mention of safety gear. I, like many other health professionals, was concerned about the potential for injury.

Indeed, this is now an unfortunate reality as more and more children are presenting to emergency rooms with scooter related injuries. Not surprisingly, most of the injured children are not wearing any protective gear. Although most injuries were cuts, bruises, sprains and some fractures, it is only a matter of time before we see head and other life threatening scooter-related injuries.

Official recommendations will soon appear regarding specific protective gear for scooter riding. For the time being, I would protect a child the same way as an in-line skater (or skate-boarder) which includes wearing an appropriate helmet, and wrist, knee and elbow pads. Above all though, street safety should be emphasized and parents should know exactly where their children are riding their scooter at all times.

Return to Ask Dr. Paul Library

To ask Dr. Paul a question, complete this simple form