Robert Patcho, 14, launched into a skateboarding trick recently using a homemade ramp on Mahie Street in Foster Village. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that communities develop more skateboard parks that are more closely monitored for safety.

Doctors warn parents
about letting kids
under 5 ride skateboards

A pediatrics group, citing injuries,
also says riders ages 5-10
need close monitoring

Star-Bulletin news services

CHICAGO >> Citing injury risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended today that children under 5 not use skateboards and those between 5 and 10 years old do so under close supervision.

The group also said popular lightweight scooters should not be used by children under age 8 without supervision.

"Young children may be at high risk of injury from skateboards and scooters because their judgment of their own skills and strength is often poor, as is their ability to judge foot or vehicular traffic," the academy said.

The recommendations came in a policy statement published in Pediatrics, the group's monthly journal.

The academy also recommended communities continue to develop skateboard parks, which are more likely to be monitored for safety than homemade jumps.

"By any definition, scooter injuries represent a new epidemic in our country," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the center for injury research and policy at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio and a member of the APA committee that drafted the policy.

With the wild popularity of the foot-powered rides in the nation's cities and suburbs -- industry officials estimate 8 million to 10 million scooters were sold in 2000 -- injuries more than doubled from 40,500 that year to 84,000 during the first nine months of 2001, the group said.

It was the kind of onslaught seen when skateboards first cruised onto the scene in the 1970s, leaving a peak of 150,000 injuries in 1977, Smith said.

Skateboard injuries are also back on the rise nationwide, accounting for 50,000 emergency room visits each year, while scooters sent 9,400 people to emergency rooms in the first seven months of 2000.

Along with age limits, the doctors group also recommends helmets and other protective gear for scooter and skateboard riders, and encourages communities to consider more skate parks where kids can play away from city streets.

"Where we see the deaths occurring is where a child encounters an automobile," Smith said.

"Wearing a helmet can be lifesaving," he said. "Even just running into a solid object like a telephone pole or solid concrete, wearing a helmet will make the difference between a light bump and something more serious."

But parents and kids balk at putting an age limit on when kids should be allowed to go for a ride, saying youngsters have different abilities, and neighborhoods offer a range of environments where they play.

Lori Schwartz, a mother of two from Agoura, Calif., said she is not so worried about letting her kids go for a spin up and down their semirural neighborhood, where she knows vehicles are few.

"In a more familiar, enclosed area that they're familiar with, that's not high-traffic, I'm not averse to them being on a skateboard or scooter without my supervision," Schwartz said. "For me it strongly depends on where."

A spokeswoman for popular scooter manufacturer Razor USA said the company has no problem with the group's recommendations, noting the guidelines are similar to those it posts on its product.

"They very closely mirror the guidelines that we've been promoting all along," said spokeswoman Katherine Mahoney.

She added other activities cause far more injuries than scootering, pointing to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which says a half-million injuries nationwide occur each year from bike riding.

Smith, the pediatrician, knows that age limits sound a little hard-core for some youngsters who just want to let it rip, but said they are guidelines to use in making choices.

"Admittedly, it's very difficult to come up with an age recommendation for any kind of activity -- kids develop very differently at different ages," he said.

Still, the doctors pointed to various characteristics to make their case.

They said young children may be at high risk for injury on skateboards and scooters because their center of gravity is higher than that of older children and adults, and their neuromuscular system is not well developed.

Reuters and the Los Angeles Daily News contributed to this report.

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