It's a fun, carefree way for a kid - or an adult - to get around. Or is it?
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you know that high-tech, lightweight scooters have exploded on the pop culture scene. Foot-powered or motorized, scooters have become must-haves for people who want the latest thing. Adults are commuting on them, children are zipping down suburban streets, even riding them to church, as one Anne Arundel County congregation witnessed recently.
And under the right circumstances, a scooter is a harmless form of fun and transportation. But adults and children alike got a warning this week: Don't jump on one of these things without some protective gear on your head and body.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported this week that across the country, riders - most of them kids - are scooting their way right into emergency rooms with sprains, bruises and fractures.
"CPSC data show that there were more than 4,000 scooter-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms in August alone. There have been more than 9,400 emergency room-treated injuries reported for 2000 so far. Nearly 90 percent of the injuries are to children under 15 years of age," the agency said in a statement this week.
At least a small number of those injuries have occurred in the Baltimore area, a check of 10 local emergency rooms shows.
"During the summer months, there have been 20 adolescents coming in with lacerations, sprains, bruises, a few fractures - mainly the wrists," said Kevin Murnane, a spokesman for North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie.
Other area hospitals report only the occasional emergency room visit from kids with scooter-related injuries. But, medical professionals say, it doesn't hurt to be safe.
Doctors are advising that children especially ride scooters with the same protective gear recommended for use while riding inline skates. That includes helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist guards.
"The most important thing to me, as a neurosurgeon, is protecting the head," says Dr. Edward Layne, a Bon Secours physician and avid cyclist who is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"There are bike helmets made [in sizes] for very small children to adults. And children's helmets may have ear protectors. There is a certain part of the skull that comes down to the ear, so a child is better off wearing a helmet like that."
However, any helmet is better than no helmet, Layne says. And while you are protecting yourself, don't forget the hands, he says.
"Gloves. Lightweight gloves, work gloves," he says. "Road rash while putting out the hand [in a fall] is common," the doctor says.
If the experience of area schools is any indication, the number of scooter-related injuries may be dropping soon.
So far, officials at four local school districts say, few scooters are showing up in the schoolyard. That could be due to the number of children riding the bus to school as opposed to walking or biking, educators say.
In Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties, few scooter mishaps have been reported, and no district contacted has felt the need yet to set any policy on their use. Most said that, as with any fad that arrives on campus, they would have to gauge its impact before taking any action to regulate it.
Both educators and doctors say they don't want to take the fun out of a fun thing. But if a child is going to ride, they say, a little protection could go a long way.
"I see plenty of children riding scooters without any [protection]," Layne says. He and his colleagues hope they won't see any of them in their hospitals.