A ten-fold increase in the number of children seriously injuring themselves on push scooters has sparked a call for a law change that would see youngsters made to wear helmets while riding.Wearing a helmet all the time would reduce the risk of serious head injuries. Toddlers, especially tend to fall over and whack their heads when they've just learned to walk. Once Safekids turns their attention to this massive problem of toddler head injury, then no child will be safe. Compulsory helmet from birth might be in order.
Push scooters have become increasingly popular with school-age children over the past two years but the rise has seen a corresponding increase in the number of scooter-related injury claims for children up to 14 years old.
ACC figures show the number of claims has risen from 697 in 2008 to 6474 last year.
The increase has alarmed child safety group Safekids, which is campaigning for the introduction of a compulsory helmet law for scooter users.
Safekids director Ann Weaver said requiring children to wear a helmet would reduce the risk of serious head injuries.
In the meantime, this sort of safety training at school could be helpful for those that see the helmet as a talisman against evil:
In case anyone's confused, while I am against mandatory helmet wearing for scootering and biking even, but I do think wearing a helmet is a good idea. However, I've never made my children wear a helmet while scooting and I don't think I could get them to anyway. Which is the problem for those parents who want their child to wear one - no other child is wearing a helmet for scooting. And if they are, they either put up with being made fun of or they stop scooting altogether.
So, I can sympathise with the parents who want the law to step in and make every child wear a helmet just so theirs won't be made to feel like a total dweeb. However using the law as a bludgeon in that way makes for a really constrained society in which you aren't allowed to do anything without the law making sure you are doing it right. This will create a false sense of security, a decreasing ability to judge relative risk (because everything becomes dangerous), and a people who eventually will not be able to do anything that requires initiative or courage.
Sean Plunket in Saturday's Dominion Post wrote on this issue, and his opinion was that the whole need for helmets on scooters was being exaggerated, and that it would be an excessive use of force by the State to mandate compulsory helmet usage for everyone on anything with wheels:
In the four-year period, 725 children were admitted to hospital with skateboard injuries and just 158 with scooter injuries. Boys between 10 and 14 were most likely to come a cropper on skateboards while boys aged 10 to 14 and girls 5 to 9 most often came to grief on scooters.A couple of days ago, when David Farrar commented on this issue, this somehow spawned a conversation on Adam and Eve when I protested that the commenter in question was blaming women for the tendency to enact excessive cotton wool legislation.
But the most surprising fact on Safekids' website was that head injuries were not the most prevalent injury for those hurt scooting or skating. Fractures were, with contusions, open wounds and internal injuries being cited as others. Head injuries didn't rate a mention.
Of course, the television coverage of this issue didn't bother to undertake that rudimentary analysis of the information made available by Safekids, I presume because it was more dramatic to show some photos of one boy's horrific head injuries and then some footage of him happily scooting with his helmet on. His mum dutifully parroted the buzz line Safekids had given me earlier in the day - "One injury like this is one too many".
That is an emotional argument which is hard to refute without looking like an uncaring bastard but forgive me if I give it a go.
Let's accept the only data we have for scooter and skateboard accidents shows that over four years a total of 883 resulted in injuries requiring hospital treatment, divide that by four and its around 220 a year.
We know most of those admissions don't involve head injuries but let's be generous and say 5 per cent do. That gives us around 12 head injuries involving scooters or skateboards and I suspect most aren't as serious as the boy on the telly.
I'm not saying the people at Safekids aren't well intentioned in drawing attention to those injuries but I don't think they justify legislation that would make a 4-year-old a law breaker if they didn't wear a helmet.
Such a law would, of course, be unenforceable, if not ridiculous, as traffic cops set up checkpoints outside school gates and launched blitzes on skate parks. Mind you it is the sort of thing Parkwise - the parking ticket contractors - would probably be more than happy to do.
So I'm not against compulsory helmets for skaters and scooters because it is nanny state paternalism or a breach of my individual rights but because it is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut that could be dealt in myriad other ways.
Yes, women tend to get highlighted in the media, because when a campaign of this sort gets going, there will always be a mother out there with a head injured child who wants something to be done, preferably a law change. There's no shortage of these people in New Zealand and they come in both sexes - they're not just women. You only have to listen to talkback and hear the number of callers who believe that the Government doing something will save everyone from the ills of life.
To say, however, that the feminisation of society is to blame for this (whatever the heck that is actually supposed to mean) is to ignore everything else that has been happening as well, which is the tendency for all of us to be bad to various degrees.
Related links: Helmet call for scooter users ~ Stuff
Education not legislation needed on helmets for youngsters ~ Sean Plunket, Dominion Post
Mandatory Scooter Helmets ~ David Farrar, KiwiBlog