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THE SAFETY ZONE | Special Report: Children's Dangers

Watchful Eye Is Best Protection

March 20, 2000|JERRY HICKS

Did you ever stop to count up how many ways an unsupervised youngster can get injured?

As I walked my 8-year-old to school the other day, she asked me when I thought she'd be old enough to walk to school alone. After all, she saw several of her classmates walking alone.

When could she finally cross the street by herself? Some of her friends do now.

When would she be old enough to ride her bike or go to the playground unsupervised?

All were an easy answer: "When you're 30," I said.

Glib, but what choice did I have? There are no concrete answers to those questions.

My daughter's chance for a little more freedom took a hit the other day when I came across statistics from the National Safe Kids Campaign: 14 million youngsters 14 and under receive unintentional injuries each year that result in emergency room treatment.

"More than 90% of unintentional child injuries can be prevented if parents use just a little common sense and a little more forethought," said Pam Bryant, community education director for Children's Hospital of Orange County.

Bryant is also co-founder of the new Orange County Safe Kids Coalition, which is an affiliate of the National Safe Kids Campaign, and recommends its checklist for all the ways children can be injured.

Walk with me through the list and see if you find some surprises:

Falls: Falls remain the leading cause of unintentional injury to children. Children 5 and under account for more than half of these.

And where do these youngsters fall?

More than 80% of such injuries to 4-year-olds and under come in the home.

They can fall playing or down the stairs or sitting in windowsills that you thought were safe.

"Just keeping furniture away from a windowsill can sometimes prevent a fall," Bryant said.

Playgrounds: At our local public playground, I'm always amazed at the number of parents who run off to play soccer or baseball on the nearby field and leave small children unattended. Studies by Safe Kids show that 70% of playground injuries come at public playgrounds--and nearly half when children are unsupervised.

But it's not falls that cause most of playground deaths. Nearly half were caused by strangulation, either on the equipment or catching clothing on the equipment (like a drawstring around the neck on a sweater).

But the main playground culprits for injuries: swings, climbers and slides.

Shopping carts: See the accompanying article, but take heed that about two-thirds of all children who fall from a shopping cart suffer head injuries. Watch for toddlers trying to climb into a shopping cart on their own; it can result in tipping the cart over onto them.

Poisoning: Here's a big home danger. More than 90% of all poisonings of children occur in the home.

And we're not talking about small numbers here. More than 1.1 million unintentional poisonings among children 5 and under are reported to poison control centers in the U.S. annually.

Sports and recreation: Here's a Safe Kids statistic that surprised me: More injuries in organized sports come in practice than in actual games.

More than 3 million children 14 and under suffer injuries from sports or other recreational activities, and some 225 children die from these injuries each year. Brain injuries are the leading cause of these deaths.

General home injuries: More than 6,000 children die each year from unintentional injuries suffered within the home. About 70% were children 4 and under.

What's surprising to me here is the list of ways children die each year from home injuries: fires, drowning, suffocation, unintentional firearms injury, poisoning and falls.

School injuries: We don't stop to think of this, but our youngsters spend about one-fourth of their waking hours in school or on school property during the school year. About 2.2 million suffer injuries at schools each year.

School bus: Many injuries occur when children are boarding or exiting the school bus because of the driver's "blind spot," which extends about 10 feet around the bus. Children should be taught to make sure a bus is at least 10 feet away before crossing the street.

Vehicle occupants: About 60% of all motor vehicle crashes occur when speed limits are 40 mph or slower. More than one-fifth of all traffic fatalities in which children are victims involve alcohol.

Riding unrestrained is the greatest risk factor for children in a vehicle. The risk is considered twice as high for these children as for those in restraints such as seat belts or car seats.

Toy injuries: Toys are supposed to be fun. Three billion toys and games are sold each year. But more than 100,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from toy-related injuries. Though most toy deaths are the result of choking, most injuries come from riding toys.

Pedestrians: About 24,000 children each year suffer motor-vehicle-related injuries as pedestrians. Special note: More than half of all toddler pedestrian injuries occur when a vehicle is backing up.

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