- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2001

Dr. James Chamberlain sees the fallout from the scooter craze all the time, but, to his relief, not at work.

The chairman and medical director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital in the District sees few scooter injuries because, he says, the toys are used more in the affluent suburbs than downtown, where the hospital is located.

He sees plenty of scooters being used in his own suburban neighborhood, however, and what he sees worries him.

"The main thing we worry about is head injury," Dr. Chamberlain says. "The brain is up there, and if you bonk the brain too hard, you've got problems in school, personality changes, that sort of thing."

Dr. Chamberlain isn't the only physician worrying about scooter safety. Emergency rooms from coast to coast are dealing with the painful realities of one of the latest fads to sweep the country those lightweight foot-propelled scooters first popularized in the 1950s.

In 2000, $681 million worth of "ride-on toys" scooters, skateboards, roller skates and in-line skates combined were sold, says Marisa Gordon, spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America. TMA doesn't break down the statistics further to consider only scooters, she says. In 1999, $287 million worth of ride-on toys were sold.

Five million Razor scooters were sold in 2000, a company spokeswoman says.

Scooters seem to be popular with children because they're lightweight, portable and relatively inexpensive compared to bicycles. (Some scooters cost $50 to $70.) But Dr. Chamberlain says many children who ride scooters don't take the same safety precautions that they do when they ride bicycles, and that can lead to injury.

"It's probably a combination of things," Dr. Chamberlain says. "One, you're lower to the ground than you are on a bike, so if you do fall, you're not going to fall as far. You're also not going as fast. Third, you have a better chance of recovery if you're on a scooter. You can often hop off it and onto your feet, or you can get your arms out in time, so you're more likely to end with abrasions or maybe even a broken arm than smashing your head."

Still, Dr. Chamberlain strongly recommends that scooter riders wear bike helmets. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which tracks scooter-related injuries and has posted three scooter recalls in the past year, suggests that riders also wear knee and elbow pads, as skateboarders do, and ride scooters only on smooth, paved surfaces without any traffic.

"You also want to be aware of cracks in sidewalks, pebbles, sand, anything that would cause you to wipe out," Dr. Chamberlain says.

The New York City Council recently approved a bill that would require scooter riders ages 13 and younger to wear helmets while riding scooters, under penalty of a $50 fine. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani supports the legislation and is expected to sign the bill, according to the CPSC.

CPSC spokesman Mark Ross says the scooter phenomenon is too recent for his organization, or any other that he knows of, to have done any studies to gauge how many scooter riders wear helmets. Yet, since the CPSC released its scooter-injury statistics last month and began publicizing the need for helmet usage, he says, he has noticed more children in the neighborhoods around his home wearing helmets.

"I hope it's done some good," he says. "We got a lot of coverage when we suggested that people who ride scooters wear safety equipment, primarily helmets. We're trying to get the word out that they can prevent injuries."

Mr. Ross notes that of the five scooter-related deaths the CPSC has noted since September, one might have been avoided had the rider been wearing a helmet. A man in Richmond died in September after he fell off a scooter and hit his head.

"There is a perfect case in point," Mr. Ross says. "Helmets do help."

The CPCS reported about 40,500 emergency-room visits related to scooter injuries last year, with about 8,600 in September alone. That month seemed to represent a high-water mark for scooter injuries last year because in September, scooter injuries surpassed in-line skating injuries for the first time.

Fractures accounted for 29 percent of scooter injuries in 2000, the CPSC says, most of them to the arms or hands.

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