If you have kids, toys are often on your mind when you’re buying gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions. As a parent, it’s a pleasure to see your children’s’ eyes light up upon receiving a longed-for play item. Is it any wonder that “toy” and “joy” rhyme?
Sadly, sometimes it’s not all fun and games. Toys purchased out of love can cause injuries, even fatalities, through no fault of our own. In 2013, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), almost 257,000 kids ended up in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. About three-fourths of injuries involved children age 14 and under, with one-third of injuries happening to kids under 5. The nine deaths all involved children under 12.
Thankfully, the vast majority of children who go to the ER for toy-related injuries are treated and released. But that fact can be cold comfort when it’s your child on the examining table, crying.
Risky Ride-ons and Hazardous Happy Times
Every year, lists of unsafe toys appear. There’s no doubt that some toys are poorly designed, or are manufactured in countries that don’t always pay attention to our regulations, such as those regarding lead paint. But the problems go beyond lists of specific toys, because a lot of injuries can be attributed to certain varieties of toys.
By far, the category responsible for the most injuries are riding toys—38 percent of all injuries to children 14 and younger were because of riding toys during 2013, including two deaths. Riding toys include powered and unpowered wheeled riding toys, unpowered nonwheeled riding toys (think sleds and toboggans), tricycles, wagons and — the biggest cause of injury—nonmotorized scooters. Of the 38 percent group, nearly three-fourths of the injuries were attributable to foot-powered scooters. A nonmotorized scooter is perhaps the most dangerous toy your child can use.
With younger children, especially those under the age of 3, choking is the leading cause of injuries. Toy balls and latex balloons are often responsible; in fact, latex balloons are the No. 1 cause of choking and asphyxiation deaths. Of the nine children who died of toy-related causes in 2013, seven were due to asphyxiation.
What About Our Laws?
In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) gained a greater ability to fight dangerous toys and children’s products through the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The regulations of the CPSIA define children’s products and require manufacturers of all children’s products and toys to:
- Test products using an accredited, CPSC-accepted lab
- Provide a written certificate demonstrating compliance
- Provide permanent tracking data for all products sold (where possible)
- Comply with all other related product safety rules.
The Federal Hazardous Substances Act and the Child Safety Protection Act cover hazards caused by lead paint and choking, respectively. Imported items, however, can sometimes cause problems because of noncompliance.
The sad fact, though, is that manufacturers don’t always pay attention to laws, and they sometimes cut corners. A design could be flawed, a warning label could be missing, or the age-appropriate notation on a product could be incorrect. Every year, countless toys that injure kids end up in on the market — and in our children’s hands. The manufacturers who flout the law can and should be held to account for negligence and be made to pay damages.
What Can Parents Do?
The legal system can only do so much to protect our children. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help prevent injury. Nationwide Children’s Hospital has some suggestions regarding the best ways to keep your kids safer:
- Always follow a toy’s listed age restrictions. Giving a child a toy he or she is too young for is a leading reason children suffer injuries.
- With very young children, inspect all toys for small parts that could become choking hazards.
- Don’t use latex balloons or allow young children to have balls small enough to fit in their mouth.
- Supervise any child under the age of 8 while they are using a riding toy.
- Allow your kids to use riding toys only on flat, dry surfaces that are well removed from traffic dangers.
- Make sure your children wear protective gear, such as helmets and knee and elbow pads, when using riding toys, especially on scooters.
- If you have questions about the safety of a particular toy, you can always check the CPSC’s recalls page to see if the toy has been recalled.