High-speed snowmobile and ice hockey collisions often result in injury to the head, neck, and spine

According to two reports published in March’s issue of Pediatrics, high-speed snowmobile or ice hockey collisions can often cause injury to the head and neck. To reduce the number of children dying and injuring themselves, doctors recommend that legislation be amended and that sportsmanship is encouraged.

In the United States, snowmobiling is a popular winter sport. It is considered a family sport by many, so it is important that both parents as well as children are educated on how to prevent injury in snowmobiling.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published this statement in 1988 about snowmobiling. “Snowmobiles should not be used for children or young adolescents. They should not be used by children under 16 years of age.” AAP recommended that all riders above 16 years old be licensed and that helmets should be worn at all time.

These recommendations were made more than a decade ago. However, snowmobile injuries persist. Researchers reviewed nearly 300 cases that were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1990-98. This is because pediatric snowmobile trauma has never been studied in the United States. In states where there were at least one death, snowmobile laws were examined.

According to data, 75% of snowmobile accidents involved boys. The most common cause of death was head and neck injuries from snowmobile collisions with stationary objects. Other injuries that result from vehicle ejection are not fatal include bruises, scrapes and cuts, broken bones, and even sprains.

A legislative analysis found that snowmobile use on private land, where more than 40% of all child accidents occur, is not subject to age restrictions. Additionally, most states don’t require protective helmets. According to the authors, new laws are appropriate and necessary.

Manda Rice, research coordinator at Toledo Children’s Hospital, Ohio, said that legislators should consider enacting helmet laws and age restrictions. “Licensing and registration fees should also be used to fund snowmobile trails maintenance.

“But the states have not adopted [such restrictions] so far.” Rice tells WebMD that we encourage doctors to advocate for the state and local governments.

“It is frustrating to see teenagers with serious, long term injuries from recreational snowmobile usage,” said Michael Bannon, MD. He is the director of the Mayo Clinic’s surgical/trauma ICU and assistant professor of Surgery at the Mayo School of Medicine.

According to Bannon, the long-term effects of head injury can range from memory impairments and learning disabilities to prolonged coma. Bannon says that head injuries can have a profound impact on family life. The same applies to injuries to the spine.

The most dangerous winter sport is snowmobiling. A rise in spine injuries has led to similar recommendations by the AAP for youth ice hockey. All levels of competition have different sizes and strengths, but differences are greatest at 14-15.

The academy recommends that players under 15 years old refrain from intentional body contact (called body checks), and encourage good sportsmanship. It also suggests that they implement education about the dangers of checking from behind.

Important Information

Recent research shows that children are often injured in high-speed snowmobile or ice hockey collisions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes there should be helmet laws, speed limits and age restrictions for snowmobiles. However, most states do not have such legislation.

The AAP recommends that youth hockey players not be subject to body checks. It also suggests that good sportsmanship programs are adopted and education about the dangers of checking from behind.

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Updated 01/24/22