Noggins on toboggans need helmets, say experts
Published Sunday, January 28, 2007 11:42PM EST
TORONTO - With the winter finally in place and snow firmly underfoot, the time of the year has arrived where kids across the country, with or without parental approval, spend their days sliding down hillsides.
The question is whether kids should be wearing helmets when doing so, considering an estimated 2,000 children are injured every year - a figure that only refers to those who go to hospital - in sledding-related accidents.
Brain injury and safety experts from around the country say that it may be a foolish move for Canadians not to take the issue of playing safely on their sleds more seriously.
"There (are) probably, across this country . . .thousands of kids that are permanently brain-injured as a result of toboggan injuries that you won't know about because they are hidden in long-term care facilities or they are being taken care of at home," said Louis Francescutti, an emergency room physician and child injury expert from Edmonton.
"Those injuries are probably far more costly to society than the fatalities that occur."
At the federal level, Health Canada recommends that all children use a helmet when sledding.
In some provinces, most recently Ontario, suggestions have been made to encourage safer sledding but none have tabled any formal legislation.
Francescutti said that although helmets are not a requirement by law, they should be something that parents - at a minimum - should make their kids comply with.
And he thinks adults should wear them, too.
"If you require them for kids, why wouldn't you require them for adults?" he said.
But it's a complex issue that goes beyond simple legislation, said John Dumas, spokesman for the Ontario Brain Injury Association, because it is the type of law that would be hard to enforce.
He said if people see others sledding without protection, and with impunity, they will have little incentive to change their habits.
"I think enforcement of such legislation would be very difficult and that essentially makes (it) very weak," Dumas said.
He added that children need better supervision from their parents because the injury risks are similar to those received from bicycles - possibly greater.
A prominent 1999 study of child-tobogganing injuries by doctors at the University of Ottawa suggested that a typical toboggan can reach speeds up to 35 km/h, depending on the conditions of the slope.
"The speeds that you can reach on some of those hills - an ice-covered hill, with any sort of toboggan you are going to reach some pretty good speeds," said Dumas.
"If there is a tree at the bottom of the hill, the damage can be quite extensive."
Like Francescutti, he wants people to protect themselves whether there's a law or not.
"We've always recommended that helmets be worn," he said. "It's just a good precaution to take."
Sandra Yeung Racco, a municipal councillor from Vaughan, Ont., who recently spearheaded a move to create a toboggan-helmet law in Ontario, disagrees that legislation would be ineffective.
She said when bicycle helmet laws were introduced, compliance followed simply because it would be expected that kids wear helmets.
"You don't see police giving out tickets (to kids), however. . . now, every time when kids go out, the parents or the kids will remember that 'I have to put a helmet on when I go out,' " Racco said.
"The hills can be deceiving," said Racco, pointing to a recent tragedy in Winnipeg where a 12-year-old boy was killed after hitting his head on an ice patch while toboganning.
She says it doesn't take an impact with another object to get hurt - it can be something on the hill, beneath the snow, that could cause the most damage.
"They may have snow on top but they may have ice underneath and you don't know," she said.
"There is a danger in that."