- - Thursday, January 8, 2015


Winter, with its ice, snow and slush, doesn’t offer many rewards — unless you’re a kid with a sled, or an old inner tube or a big piece of cardboard. Then you can slide toward heaven, where, if you’re lucky, a big pot of hot chocolate awaits in Mom’s toasty kitchen.

But just not in Dubuque, the traditional home of the starchy old lady who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun. Dubuque has prohibited sledding in 48 of the city’s 50 public parks. Lawbreaking toboggan riders and inner tube pilots face fines of $750 for repeat offenses.

Dubuque joins several other Iowa cities, including Boone and Des Moines, and cities and towns in Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska and New Jersey in severely regulating or banning sleds on public property. Sourpusses like the little old lady in Dubuque say the prohibition is necessary because 20,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries every year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. More than 74.5 million children live among us in the United States, so that’s only about 1 in every 3,725 kids who can expect to visit the hospital for sledding accidents in a given year, even if they all go sledding in that same given year (and a lot of kids in Honolulu, San Diego, New Orleans and other warm places won’t).

That 3,725 youngsters injured zooming down snowy hills represent only a tiny fraction of the 275,000 children hurt on bicycles, the 82,000 injured on trampolines and the 61,000 injured on skateboards. Those are the risks of growing up, but many of the powers that be listen to the nannies because they’re frightened, not of the kids’ ice, snow, skinned knees and chipped teeth, but of their parents’ lawyers.

Several states have enacted laws to protect cities from liability if someone gets hurt biking, skating or skateboarding on city property. Those protections rarely extend to sledding, so some city fathers are terrified of lawsuits and judgments that required Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa, to pay more than $2 million in each city to banged-up sledders.

Reasonable tort reform has been enacted by half the states, and legislatures in the remaining states should follow. This could remind legislators and their constituents that it’s not possible to protect everyone from every danger.

Lenore Skenazy of the Free-Range Kids website observes that when government starts protecting everyone from themselves “we get a society that puts 100 percent safety above any other cause, including fairness, convenience, exercise, rationality — and delight.” That’s a place where even the nannies wouldn’t want to live.

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