The speedy, bumpy, sometimes scary slide downhill is one of the outdoor winter activities that youths and adults have always enjoyed. It can be fun, but every year thousands of youths and adults are injured sledding down hills in city parks, streets and resort areas. Most of these injuries are preventable.
Some recommended “Essential Precautions” and “Preferred Precautions” have been outlined by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons that, if followed, would dramatically reduce the incidence of serious injury. The data behind these recommendations is included below.
AAOS Recommendations for Sledding Safety:
Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no trees, posts, fences or other obstacles in the sledding path. The sledding run must not end in a street, drop off, parking lot, pond or other hazard.
Parents or adults must supervise children in sledding areas to make sure the sledding path is safe and there are not too many sledders on the hill at the same time or at the end of the run to avoid collisions. No one should sled headfirst.
All participants should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled.
Young children should wear a fitted helmet while sledding.
The sled should have runners and a steering mechanism, which is safer than toboggans or snow disks.
Sledding in the evening should only be done in well-lighted areas.
Plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground should not be used for sledding. Sledders should wear layers of clothing for protection from injuries and cold.
Incidence of Injury
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 74,000 sledding, snow tubing, and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics in 2004. The total medical, legal and liability, pain and suffering, and work loss-related costs were more than $2.3 billion.
The majority of injuries happen to youths age 14 and younger, especially in the run outs at the end of the sledding path. Adult supervision is needed to make sure that children sledding down a hill don't collide with children in the run outs and that the end of the sledding path isn't in a street or parking lot, pond or other hazardous area.
Some of the injuries can be serious enough to cause lifelong disability or death. When a sled hits a fixed object such as a tree, rock or fence, the rider may suffer head and neck injuries. Helmets help prevent head injuries and should be worn by sledders under 12 years old.
Young children are very vulnerable to injuries. They have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity than older children and teens. Their coordination has not fully developed and they can have difficulty avoiding falls and obstacles.
Other Contributing Data
Several studies of sledding injury patterns reveal a number of important patterns:
Head injuries account for >50% of severe sledding injuries, yet helmet use runs approximately 2-3%.
Surveys of sledding behavior after injury indicate that helmet use increases to near 25%, improvements in behavior on the sled occurs in almost 60%, and sledding location improves in nearly 20%.
Collision with fixed objects occurred in the majority of severe head and spine injuries. A very large percentage of deaths were associated with collision with automobiles, moving or parked.
Suboptimal lighting (dusk or dark) was associated with >50% of severe sledding injuries.
Sledding injuries not surprisingly occur in a younger age group than skiing or snowboarding. What is surprising to some is that head injuries are much more common in sledding than either of the others.