Tobogganing bans: Is the beloved winter pastime too dangerous for our kids?
Published Tuesday, January 6, 2015 12:39PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 6, 2015 1:24PM EST
A fresh new fall of snow means one thing for most kids: time to hit the tobogganing slopes. But in several cities, finding hills where they’re allowed to slide is becoming more difficult, as several cities in Canada and the U.S. have begun imposing bans.
Many of these cities say that tobogganing is simply too dangerous and they worry about lawsuits if someone becomes badly injured on their property.
Tobogganing is inherently dangerous -- that’s part of what makes it fun, many enthusiasts would argue. It involves sliding on a piece of plastic or wood that can’t really be steered and flying down a hill at high speeds, waiting to see where you end up.
Unfortunately, where many end up is in the hospital with broken bones or concussions. The Canadian Institute for Health Information says while tobogganing doesn’t result in as nearly as many injuries as skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling, there are accidents. In the winter of 2010-2011, for example, there were 171 hospitalizations from tobogganing crashes, and about a third of them involved kids under the age of 10.
The number of cities in the U.S. bringing in tobogganing bans on city property is growing every year, reports The Associated Press.
In Canada, only a few cities have full bans on tobogganing on city property; Hamilton, Ont. is one example.
Other cities have enacted bylaws restricting tobogganing to only certain hills. The City of Ottawa, for example, has 56 approved sledding hills -- although all are currently closed due to ice.
Winnipeg maintains not only several tobogganing areas, but several toboggan slides as well.
But even with restrictions and hill closures during icy periods, it’s unclear whether cities are protected from lawsuits. In 2013, the city of Hamilton was ordered to pay $900,000 to a man who injured his spine in 2004 while sliding down a city-owned hill near a reservoir.
The man hit a hidden snow-covered drainage ditch on the property. The arbitrator in the case ruled that the city had failed to properly warn the public about the ditch. That was despite the fact that city had brought in a bylaw banning tobogganing on the hill, had posted signs about the bylaw, and had tried to fence off the area.
The arbitrator ruled there were not enough signs in the area right around the drainage ditch, and that the fencing had been destroyed and not replaced. He found that while the man was an adult and chose to toboggan, the city hadn’t taken enough care to ensure that people on their property were kept safe.
The case has raised questions about how far cities need to go to impose tobogganing bans.
In Toronto, a popular tobogganing hill had to be closed because so many residents were becoming injured. While the city designated a new tobogganing area in another part of the park, the original hill has remained so popular, the city has had to hire a police officer in past seasons to enforce the ban.
In the town of Paxton, Illinois, the parks department chose to simply bulldoze out its largest sledding hill because of liability concerns.
Still, since tobogganing will likely continue to remain popular among Canadian kids and adults alike, doctors say it’s best to try to do as safely as possible.
Dr. Vikram Ralhan, an emergency room physician at Georgian Bay General Hospital says he sees lots of injuries from tobogganing, and suggests all sledders wear helmets.
“Making sure you’re wearing the basic protective head gear, that’s probably the one thing you can do,” he told CTV Barrie.
“You can't stop anyone from going tobogganing; people have been doing it for years and years and years. But at least you can try and protect yourself to reduce your chance of head injuries, specifically.”
As for which kind of helmets are best, there may not a clear answer on that. Researchers at the University of Ottawa and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) found that hockey helmets were the most protective at lower-speed tobogganing impacts, but bicycle helmets were more protective at high-speed impacts. Oddly, ski helmets had only limited effectiveness at both low and high speed impacts.
Nevertheless, most head injury specialists say any helmet is better than no helmet, and the best helmet for your child is the one you know they are most willing to wear.