Helmet call for scooter users

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2013
Scooter riding
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ

BURNING ENERGY: Having fun on their scooters are the Bennetts, from left, Josh, 9, Blake, 4, and Austin, 7.

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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.

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.

"We do want children to go out and have fun and learn and develop and take risks but we want them to do that safely and the issue is, once you damage your brain you can't get it back. There's only one chance."

A Safe2Scoot campaign will be rolled out in August, providing a template safety policy for schools and urging them to introduce a "no helmet, no scooter" rule.

The call has been supported by research conducted by Waikato University social science student, Trish Wolfaardt.

Her report - Scootering on: an investigation of children's use of scooters for transport and recreation - recommended amending the cycle helmet legislation to include "all wheeled recreational devices, irrespective of the age of the rider".

It also recommended introducing a minimum age for scootering to school.

"Wearing protective gear will not exempt children from injury, but it will minimise the harm," the report said.

It found that while most injuries were moderate - dislocations, fractures and lacerations - there had been an increase in the number of severe injuries and even deaths.

Boys were more likely to be injured than girls and most accidents happened at home or on public roads.

Ministry of Transport land transport safety manager Leo Mortimer said it was unlikely that legislation would be changed.

"In the same way that we have not considered compulsory helmets for skateboarders.

"Scooter riders must comply with all the rules applying to other road users, however, unlike cyclists, they don't need to wear a helmet or use a light at night."

Te Totara School principal Brian Sheedie said more students were riding scooters than bikes to school, but he was only aware of minor injuries to pupils.

"But, of course, if you get an injury to your head or an accident with a car that's totally different. We monitor that pretty carefully."

He said it was "very rare" for pupils to wear a helmet but was open to the idea of a scooter safety policy.

Waikato acting road policing manager Inspector Rob Lindsay said there had been an obvious increase in children using scooters but it hadn't become a safety issue.

"I've noticed there are more out there, we know that for sure. Even personally I've seen kids falling off them and getting their foot caught in the back wheel.

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"It's not something that's raised its head for us at the moment. Not to say that it won't."

New Zealand's compulsory cycle helmet came into effect in 1994.

The Evaluation of New Zealand's Bicycle Helmet Law report, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last year, said the helmet law had resulted in more injuries and deaths and less cyclists on the roads. 

PROBLEMATIC PROTECTION?

Hamilton mum Jodie Bennett says she wouldn't mind her kids having to wear a helmet, but the thought of decking them all out with elbow and knee pads every time they want to play on their scooters is a bit much.

"I think it would put kids off if they had to wear all that sort of stuff."

She wonders what would happen if she let her kids play on their driveway and on the footpath outside their north Hamilton house and they were spotted by police or other agencies.

"Where does it stop if someone saw them? Would they stop them?"

Mrs Bennett recalls when her youngest boy, Austin, who is nearly 5, fell, a helmet was not a lot of help as he landed flat on his face.

She says they are also most likely to injure their elbows or knees, rather than their heads and usually never wore shoes when riding.

Eldest boy, Josh, 9, says he wouldn't want to have to wear a helmet every time he uses his scooter, let alone the extra safety pads.

But Mrs Bennett also likened it to when helmets were eventually made compulsory when riding a bike - and not many people were keen on that, either.

- Belinda Feek

- Waikato Times

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