WEDNESDAY, Nov. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Go-carts may be fun, but that fun often comes to a screeching halt with kids ending up seriously injured, a new report finds.
"These vehicles that look very much like toys and are often sold as toys are dangerous," said lead author Annemarie Relyea-Chew, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "They are unregulated, and if parents are going to permit children to use them, then they have to make themselves familiar with rules of safety."
In the study, 18 kids ended up in hospital emergency rooms after crashing, rolling the go-cart over, getting pinned between a go-cart and a tree or being ejected from the vehicle and then being struck by a second go-cart.
And riding with an adult didn't ensure a child's safety: five of the 18 children in the study were injured after either standing on the go-cart frame while an older person drove or being ejected from the vehicle while riding in the driver's lap.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from 1985 through 1996, hospital emergency rooms treated 10,500 go-cart injuries per year in the United States. Children under 15 accounted for 65 percent of those injuries.
Although safety rules have tightened on go-cart tracks as a result of lawsuits, privately owned go-cart use remains largely unregulated.
The new report was to be presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.
In their study, Relyea-Chew and colleagues studied the diagnostic images and medical records of 18 boys and girls admitted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., after injuries suffered in private go-carts. The average age of the children was 10.3 years.
Among these children, 22 percent were admitted for head injuries, 17 percent had serious injuries to the face and neck, 28 percent had injuries to the torso, 28 percent had injuries to the arms, and 39 percent had injuries to the legs, the researchers report.
Of the 14 patients whose helmet status was known, 71 percent had not worn a helmet. Four of these children had closed head injuries.
"In addition, 28 percent of the children were injured as passengers," Relyea-Chew said.
Fifty percent of the children needed surgery, and 28 percent needed two or more operations. Children were hospitalized for about five days at an average cost of $18,882 per patient.
Go-carts "are not toys," Relyea-Chew said. "They have exposed engines, they use gas," she added. "Kids should be supervised and use safety equipment."
Experts advise that go-cart drivers be at least 12 years old and weigh 80 pounds or more before getting behind the wheel.
One expert found the study wanting, however.
"Using the medical records of 18 kids admitted with go-cart injuries to make the case that go-carts are dangerous would be like using the medical records of people admitted for aspirating jelly beans to make the case that jelly beans are lethal," said Dr. David L. Katz,the director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.
"Of course go carts are dangerous, as are skis, in-line skates, skateboards, ice skates, motorcycles, horses, sleds, and just about everything else fun," Katz added.
Almost any recreational activity involving speed comes along with the potential for serious injury, Katz said.
"Prudent restrictions should be placed on active recreation that strikes a balance between fun, and danger. Because after all, boys will be boys, as the saying goes -- and it goes for girls, too," he said.
For more on helping kids stay accident-free, head to Safe Kids USA.