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Sledding: Safety Tips for Parents

Helmets recommended


With the country deep in the throes of winter, sledding-related injuries are common among children and adolescents, but many are preventable if common sense safety precautions, including the use of helmets, are taken.

According to Daryl O'Connor, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in the Orthopaedic Department at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, a part of Loyola University Health System in Chicago, more than 700,000 injuries are reported each year in the United States due to sledding. More than 30 percent are head injuries, caused by collisions.

An estimated 229,023 children and teens 19-years-old and under were treated in the Emergency Departments of US hospitals, for an injury rate of 26 per 100,000 population, says a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.[1]

Sledder with helmet

The biggest causes for concern, said researchers, are that:

  • Nearly one out of ten (9%) are traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) 
  • More than one-half result from contact with an object in the environment, suggesting that sledding in areas with trees, fences, and light poles may be hazardous but is common.
  • Although sledding in a street or highway accounts for only about 2% of all sledding-related injuries, such injuries are more likely to be head, diagnosed as TBI, and require hospitalization.
  • Toboggans are particularly dangerous because they have no steering or braking mechanisms, give riders little control, are more likely to rotate and to collide with other sleds.
  • Snow tubes and disks also have potential for injury because they, too, have the potential to rotate, travel very fast, and have no steering mechanism. 
  • One-third of injuries sustained by sledders when pulled by vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, are fractures.

Safety Tips

After analyzing the data, researchers at Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio recommended that parents take the following safety precautions to minimize the risk of sledding-related injuries:

  • Do not allow sledding in streets or highways,
  • Make sure sledding areas are clear of trees and other obstacles and that there is sufficient run-out areas away from streets;
  • Discourage the use of sleds with the potential to rotate (disks, snow tubes);
  • Supervise younger children, who are more likely to sustain head injuries, including TBIs, to ensure that safety precautions are taken.
  • Consider requiring requiring children to wear a helmets while sledding, as recommended by the CPSC for children skiing and snowboarding, which has been found to reduce head injuries in children less than 15 years old by 58%.

Snitching: Just Foolish

A recent, unofficial entry on the sledding list is something called "snitching" in which daredeveil teens grab a car's rear bumper and slide on their feet, or are pulled by ropes on inner tubes or sleds through icy streets. "This is not even a sport; it's just being foolish," says O'Connor. "In addition to broken bones, neck and shoulder injuries, young people can suffer fatal head trauma. Please, resist the skitch at all costs," says O'Connor.

1. Howell CA, Nelson NG, McKenzie LB. Pediatric and Adolescent Sledding-Related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments in 1997-2007. Pediatrics 2010;126(3):517-524.

Additional sources: Nationwide Children's Hospital and Loyola University Health System.

Updated February 1, 2015