Many parents overlook the risks of tobogganing

ANN ARBOR – Snow days are as special as they are rare, and tobogganing is a common way to celebrate a day off from school.

However, doctors at CS Mott Children’s Hospital warn that parents may not always consider the dangers of sledding hills.

A national survey released in 2022 found that two in three parents said their child never wears a helmet when sledding. In addition, they reported that they were less likely to discuss safety rules with their children when sledding compared to other winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.

“Activities like sledding and skiing offer families an exciting way to enjoy the outdoors during the winter months,” said Sarah Clark, co-director of Mott Poll, in a press release. “But parents have a responsibility to take the right steps to minimize the risk of injury to their children.”

The University of Michigan Health CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Child Health Survey was conducted in October 2021 and was based on responses from 1,992 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 3 and 18.

According to UM, sled injuries are common during the winter months. Between 2008 and 2017, more than 220,000 patients were treated in emergency departments across the US for fractures, strains, sprains and more related to sledding.

“Because sledding is so common, parents can overlook important safety concerns,” Clark said in a statement. “However, to avoid injury, parents should ensure the sledding area is clear of trees or other objects and has a flat run-out area at the bottom of the hill. Parents should also make sure children understand strategies to avoid collisions with other sleigh riders.”

Parents who took part in the survey also said they would supervise their children less when sledding than when they were snowmobiling, snowboarding or skiing.

“Very young children need supervision at all times when engaging in winter sports activities, either from a parent or another trusted adult,” Clark said in a statement. “This way parents can make sure kids are following safety rules and decide if the area is getting too crowded or if other people are behaving unsafely.”

Below are safety guidelines for snow sports from the Mott Child Trauma Injury Prevention Program:

  • Check your surroundings thoroughly to make sure the toboggan run is free of collision hazards such as light poles, trees or rocks.

  • Parents should not allow children to sled where the hill ends in a road, parking lot, pond, or fence, or where there is insufficient run-out space to allow the child to slow down and get off the sled.

  • For younger children, parents should describe and demonstrate the process of getting up the hill, how to avoid collisions, and how to quickly sidestep once you get to the bottom of the hill. You should also talk about what to do in the event of a fall.

  • Children should never ride a sled pulled by a motorized vehicle, including ATVs, snowmobiles, tractors, and ATVs.

  • Choose snowy slopes rather than icy ones, which can cause sleds to spin or tip over. The steepness of the hill should also be appropriate for the child’s age and experience.

  • Sled in well-lit areas during the day or night so hazards are visible.

  • Children should wear an adapted winter sports helmet or at least a bicycle helmet. Remember that tobogganing is often just as fast or faster than cycling. Make sure the heads are protected.

  • When tobogganing, children should not race or lie on each other or on their parents.

  • Avoid scarves, accessories, or loose clothing that could get caught in a slide or pose a choking hazard.

  • Always supervise younger children.

  • Older children who are allowed to sled, ski or snowboard with other children should have a cell phone and a parent should be available in case of injury.

  • When skiing or snowboarding, parents may consider enlisting the help of the ski facility staff to ensure their child’s helmet, boots, and other gear are the correct size and wear.

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