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City Bans Tobogganing and Sledding

Is the paranoia warranted?


Children will be children, except in Dubuque, Iowa, where one of the best-loved winter activities—tobogganing—has been banned in all but a few of its 50 parks. In Health and Safety meets Bubble Wrapping gone mad, the city has decided to ban sledding over liability concerns that could lead to civil lawsuits.

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After all, those class actions can be costly. Like upwards of $2m kind of costly. And when you can't manage the hills, the answer is simple: you close them. Other cities in the state have taken more level-headed options, such as posting signs reminding sledders of the potential hazards of hurtling yourself down a hill at a hundred miles an hour on a paper-thin bit of plastic. 

It begs the question: is it up to courts to protect us from ourselves?

And is Dubuque's paranoia warranted? Sort of. From 1997 to 2007, ERs were flooded with more than 20,000 kids every year in the U.S. due to sledding-related injuries. Stories like the one in which a five year-old was paralyzed after her sled crashed into a tree are enough to make you want to lock your kids inside their rooms until they turn 18.

Helmets can only do so much. Just last year I hurt my coccyx when sledding with my son. Cue X-rays and several agonizing weeks. All the while I was thankful my body had absorbed the shock, not his. And always, always in the back of my mind is an old friend who landed in traction for six months after a spinal cord injury. Bet she has a few things to say about tobogganing...

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She is proof that the worst-case scenario does happen sometimes. Yet every day we take calculated risks—calculated being the operative word—and live to tell about it. We love our kids and we don't want anything bad to happen them, granted. But if you put the kibosh on certain activities, where do you stop? Street hockey, bouncy castles, hard balls, snow balls, trampolines, skating, running, breathing...