A helmet law for toboggans?

by DaniGirl on January 23, 2007 · 9 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything, Mothering without a licence

Normally, I tend to favour the legislation of safety. I’m all for car seat laws, and bicycle helmet laws, and non-smoking laws, and seat-belt laws. I think the state has as much of a role to play in these areas as the individual.

On this issue, I’m not so sure. Today in the Citizen, there was an article about sledding safety and it examined the question of whether there should be a law requiring kids to wear a helmet when tobogganing.

Never mind the law part, I got stuck on the question of whether one should wear a helmet when sledding. I have to admit, paranoid as I am about the boys’ safety, putting a helmet on them to go tobogganing would have never occured to me. Not that it’s a bad idea. Lord knows I did enough damage to myself as a child on snowy hills.

When I was six or seven, I caught the sharp edge of a plastic toboggan across the bridge of my nose when I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough one day while trying to walk back up a slippery hill. I clearly remember the look on my poor mother’s face as she opened the back door to let me in and took one look at me, wailing and with blood streaming down my face. Another time, back in the days before snowboarding I did enough damage to my ankle trying to ‘surf’ down a hill on a toboggan that I started the second semester of grade nine on crutches. In fact, I hurt myself when I (wisely, in retrospect) bailed off the sled as it headed at great speed directly toward a tree.

Neither one of those injuries would have been prevented by a helmet. If I’d hit that tree, a helmet might have been a good thing, mind you. I can see no harm whatsoever in suggesting kids wear helmets when tobogganing.

But to legislatively require it? That is, pardon the pun, a slippery slope. (Confession: as soon as I starting noodling this post, I knew I had to work that pun in somewhere!) Legislating something implies we have the desire, let alone the capability, to enforce it. Would there be tickets for helmetless sledders? Would helmets be required every time a child is on a sled? Sure, it makes sense on the big hills like the ones the NCC maintains at Bruce Pit and Conroy Pit (another aside – I love the Canadian-ness of city-maintained sled hills!) but what about the gentle slope in the park across the street? Would helmets be required there? Would a helmet required when I trade our wagon for a sled to negotiate snow-covered sidewalks?

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, do you put the helmet over or under the toque?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Your Boss January 23, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Well, we bought a helmet for Josephine to skate in. It was partly peer pressure – to avoid the stink-eye from other parents; and it is required if she’s going to have lessons. But, a helmet wouldn’t have saved me from a face-first crash into the boards during a swan dive when I was about seven. And seeing blood bounce on the ice was really neat, and no child should be deprived of that.
But here’s the thing – there were no helmets small enough to fit her, and so when I asked the salesman why I saw other small kids with helmets on that appeared to fit – he told me that he wasn’t allowed to tell me this – but they fit when they go OVER the hat. All of Josie’s hats have either kitty or bear ears, or flowers or pom-poms. So that’s how it works.
As for sledding? Legislated? Don’t bylaw enforcement officers have better things to do?

2 BeachMama January 23, 2007 at 2:58 pm

I tend to be on the side of no need for a helmet when tobogganing. It would just seem to make it hard to bomb down the hill with your head a little top heavy.
We do have a helmet for J for skating and although his hat fits underneath, he likes to wear it without his hat like the hockey players do. I always keep a hat in my pocket though just in case he gets cold :).

3 Valerie January 23, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Helmets go over the hats (Your Boss, you’ll have to find a plain one for Josie) ’cause if you’re going to wear one (skating or tobogganing) it should be a hockey helmet that is made for multiple crashes, NOT a bike helmet which is made to crush on impact. And the face-first into the boards could be skipped if you have a face guard (which, I admit, S does not, but many of the kids do).
My pet peeve is seeing bike helmets on skaters, especially pushed so far back that they’re no protection anyway. That being said, last time we were skating, we were told that Sam, in his stroller, needed a helmet. So we simply took Sarah’s old bike helmet and stuck it on him, pink hearts and all. 😉
Not sure how I feel about helmets when sledding – you’d need one skiing, too, then – right? I’ve had some wicked injuries both sledding and skiing (including cross-country), none of which would have been affected by a helmet. But I guess I can see it – like you, it just never occured to me.

4 twinmomplusone January 23, 2007 at 3:49 pm

We use a balaclava under helmets for skating (with full face mask) and for downhill skiing. As for toboganning, I would consider putting the ski one if we went to a big hill with lots of people which we never have, usually just the local quiet ones. And I agree Valerie, bike helmets for skating makes no sense at all.
Two years ago, big sis had a school outing to a local ski hill to go tubing. I made it a point to get the principal to agree that all students would have to wear a helmet in order to attend this activity. With so many kids, all excited to be on a field trip, the risk of a mishap was increased and I strongly felt that the wear of a helmet was more prudent.
A few years ago a local teen died toboganning in a nearby hill, a big one maintained by the city. Could a helmet have helped? Maybe so. I do know that a very good friend of mine who works in the kids ER sees a lot of brain injuries resulting from toboganning accidents. A helmet would definitely help in absorbing some of the shock of an impact thereby protecting the very fragile attachement of teh brain to the skull.
Now whether helmet wear for tobogganing should be legislated? Not sure how it would be controlled but not a very bad idea either.
my humble two cents

5 CL January 23, 2007 at 7:51 pm

I too find this interesting. In Toronto we have to put helmets on kids for skating, and my 22-month old toddler who has a big head (just see my c-section scar!) has to wear his hat below it for it to fit properly.
Anyway, the only people I know who had serious injuries due to sledding were adults, and none of the injuries were on or near the head. One girl, when we were in Grade 13, broke her arm to such a degree that to this day she cannot completely straighten her elbow.
Not sure where I stand on this issue either. I’ll just add it to my list of other things I have to contemplate about my kid’s safety.

6 SheilaC January 23, 2007 at 11:07 pm

At least the question of legislation is opening the discussion and raising parents’ awareness. I am very cautious about tobogganning with our kids. I make them obey the rules about feet-first, not head-first, and make them walk up the side of the hill, not the middle. (Apparently that’s a very difficult rule to understand for young kids!)
My brother got a concussion when he was about 6 years old, sledding down a very steep hill in a Toronto park. And I’ve had some very painful crashes too. To some extent, I think families need to be sensible, selecting safer sleds for younger kids, and smaller gentler hills for those under 7 years old.
This year my husband got one of those GT sleds with a steering wheel for the kids. I would prefer our kids to wear helmets with that one, since they are riding higher above the ground and more likely to fly off head first. Haven’t done it yet though. We’ve only tried it once, and they weren’t thrilled, couldn’t figure out the steering.
That’s a very important point about using hockey/skating helmets, not bike helmets. Stay safe, kids!

7 Fryman January 24, 2007 at 12:02 am

OK, first off let me say that based on my experience with Dani and her uncanny ability to get injured doing almost anything, she and her familiy may not be the best baseline for this sort of discussion.
I recently had the ‘Why do I have to wear an helmet and you don’t?’ discussion with my 6 year old. The fact that I am wobblier than a weeble on skates nonwithstanding, I told her I was a better skater and didn’t fall down. Which makes me a big fat liar, but you get where I am going. I couldn’t justify why she was going to crack her skull open, while if I fell all 6’4″+ to the ice I would be fine. I realized then how much what we do rather than say impacts them. As a result, I am thinking a helmet is in my future…
We go sledding on a pretty tame hill near our house, so helmets have never even come up. I also agree that its is rarely the 6 year old who gets hurt – usually the casualties are much older and its doubtful you would catch them sledding with a brain bucket on. Like anything else, check the situation, assess the risks, and govern yourself (and kids) accordingly. Trees within 100ft of a 75ft hill with a 25% grade and a mass of other sledders = helmet. Empty field at the bottom of a gentle slope with 2 other families, probably not necessary. City run hills shouldn’t be able to exist without some sort of mandatory protection guidlines.
Another fear of mine is that the helmets would make them feel more invincible and could increase the injuries, not reduce them. Just a thought….

8 Sharon January 25, 2007 at 7:33 pm

Nope never used a helmut but we slide here on our farm no Trees…Not a big hill. And anywhere else like some of those PITS I see mainatined but the NCC no way IN HELL you’ll catch my Klutz kids going there even with a helmut. And Like how in hell are you going to enforce that? How may kids go out sledding with out ther parnets knowing they are sledding? More than many would like to admit.
Helmust sure if you can get them to use them.
Guess we won’t be using them here.

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