'Tis the season to be jolly, as the saying goes, but with winter's arrival and all the snow on the ground, it is also the season to be careful. With all the fun activities that take place in the snow, there are also inherent risks involved.

Safe Sledding

Dangers are especially plentiful in sledding, which is a winter activity embraced by many, both young and old, because it is not only easy to take part, but loads of fun, as well. While there is no arguing the fact that sports like skiing and snowboarding, and for that matter ice skating, all come with potential risks for injury, sledding in particular involves moving at high speeds along with a general lack of control, as well as the inability to stop. Add to that the possibility that on some occasions, sleds carry more than one person, and you can have a recipe for disaster.

Sobering Statistics

In fact, according to an analysis of U.S. emergency room visits, over 20,000 young children and teenagers are injured in sledding accidents each year, regardless of whether they are riding a high-tech toboggan or a plastic saucer.

Experts indicate that over a 10-year period (1997-2007), an estimated 230,000 children and teens (19 years and younger) were admitted to emergency rooms for sledding injuries. Of this group, the largest percentage of kids fell between the ages of 10 to 14 years (42.5%), followed by children between the ages of 5 to 9 years (29.5%). As many as 60% of the cases involved boys.

The study, which was reported on MSNBC.com and published in the journal Pediatrics, is especially striking when you consider that sledding is an activity that is done for only a few days out of the year, and many of the injured children probably don't even make it to the emergency room.

Types of Injuries

Amongst those who were hurt, the most common type of injury were fractured bones, which made up 26% of the injuries. After that were bruises/abrasions (25%) and cuts/sprains (16%).

One alarming piece of information is that the one area of the body that was the most frequently hurt was the head, with more than 9% of these kids sustaining traumatic brain injuries. In certain tragic incidences, children sometimes lose their lives due to sledding injuries.

What Parents Should Do

Parents need to take an active role in protecting kids when they go sledding. To ensure children's safety, keep these tips in mind:

  • Wear a helmet. Kids and adults should protect their heads when sledding. While most cities and states do not mandate it, that should not discourage the public from taking proper safety measures.
  • Scout out sledding hills. This may be difficult as kids get older, but parents should have some sense of what sort of hills their kids are riding down, and decide if they are comfortable with their kids sledding down them.
  • Sled in open areas. Do not sled where the path will take the rider near trees or poles. Many ski hills fence in sledding areas to prevent deviating from the allotted sledding area. Nearly 50% of sledding accidents involved collisions.
  • Avoid hills that are too steep. With any activity, whether it be skiing, skating, or even riding bike, the most important thing is the ability to stop. When sledding hills are too steep, not only do sledders go so fast that they cannot stop in time, but it increases the chance of losing control.
  • Do not sled near streets or highways. While a fewer number of injuries occur near roads, they can be more serious because they often involve cars.
  • Never allow a sled to be pulled by a motorized vehicle, including snowmobiles, cars, trucks, and ATVs. Nearly 6,000 kids were hurt because of these incidences.

The most important thing is for everyone to practice common sense. Only then can both children and adults make the most of this wonderful holiday season.

For more information about sledding safety, visit the website for Kid's Health.