The MacDoctor is all for using protective devices, if they have been shown to be effective, but too often he sees over-reaction like this:
“Schools urged to insist on helmets for push-scooter riders after claims to ACC rocket 500 per cent.
“The number of children seriously hurt while riding push scooters has skyrocketed with their popularity. More than 6000 under-14s were injured last year.”
Nowhere are we told what the increase is in the number of children riding scooters. For all we know from this article, the rate of injury might be falling (if the increase in scooter use is up more than 500% over the 5 years). After all we are talking of an increase from around 150 accidents to about 750 accidents – not a huge increase considering there are over a million kids under 16 in New Zealand. Already you know that the article is going to be long on drama and short on fact.
A single glance at the impressive laceration pictured in the article confirms this. We are told that the 9-year-old Brent came by his accident by hitting a rock and flipping over. The MacDoctor suspects he was going down a hill at a considerable speed when he did it. We are given the impression that a helmet would have prevented this injury. Child safety group Safekids is campaigning for schools to introduce a “no helmet, no scooter” policy for children.
Yet when you look at the breakdown of accidents that ACC report only 2% of them record a diagnosis of concussion. While a small percentage of the lacerations may be head-related, all serious head injuries like Brent’s would also have the diagnosis of concussion in addition to the laceration. Given that the vast majority of “concussion” diagnoses are for very minor head injuries, the MacDoctor concludes that the number of serious head injuries we are talking about is very, very small. Possibly Brent is our only unfortunate.
More to the point, there is no evidence at all that wearing a helmet on a scooter is a worthwhile safety precaution. It is possible that any extra protection provided to the head is overtaken by an increased rate of serious neck injuries. It is not possible to simply extrapolate this data from bicycle riding. For one thing, the mechanisms of injury are quite different and, for another, the age groups are considerably more variable. Also the data on bicycle helmet safety is nowhere near as conclusive as we are normally lead to believe.
The MacDoctor sees mostly minor scrapes and the occasional arm fracture from scooters. He sees far more serious injuries from almost every other activity of children – monkey bars, slides, team sports of all kinds, horse riding and – the big daddy of them all – the dreaded trampoline. Even furniture causes more injuries than the lowly scooter – and don’t let’s start on kitchens…
Children damage themselves at play, sometimes seriously. Responsible parents will try to minimise this risk – as they should. But let us not bubble wrap our children like a crate of fragile eggs. Let us be realistic about risk, least we create risk-averse adults or, worse, discourage our children from physical activity completely. If you have a nine-year-old like Brent, you might want to insist he wears a helmet. But six-year-old Sally, riding to school, is likely to be fine and will not be helped by schools with restrictive policies or heavy-handed legislation.