New Jersey is the first state in the nation to pass a skiing and snowboarding law requiring kids 18 years of age and younger to wear helmets when engaged in either activity. The great state made history this month when the law took effect, imposing $25 to $100 fines on parents of children found slope side without protective headgear.
Dr. Joseph Rempson, Co-Director of the Concussion Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., is pleased New Jersey is taking the lead on this issue. “The law is more than appropriate,” he said. “We know in this age group with sports there’s a risk. I view this really no differently.”
Although some disagree as to the necessity of the law, Rempson said there is no dispute over the effectiveness of helmets in limiting the number of injuries. Citing research, he emphasized the use of helmets can reduce head injuries by up to 33%.
“That’s not debatable. That’s been shown.”
Still, some remain unconvinced as to the need for legislation. For Rempson the answer was simple. “Are there enough of the injuries to mandate the law? My answer is yes.”
Over last four or five years Rempson has overseen 4,000 cases of head injuries resulting from ski and snowboard accidents. He stressed the sports are particularly perilous when considering the damage that can be sustained with a single bad accident.
“All you have to have is one. The injury itself can change a child’s life completely.” He asked, “Why take a chance?”
A chance that is further complicated when considering the segment of the population involved. “Across the board head injuries occur most in the 18-year-old and younger population,” Rempson said, noting the multitude of sports and recreational pursuits in which this group is generally active. “These kids aren’t just doing skiing or snowboarding. They also play hockey, football, lacrosse.”
And all these potentially dangerous activities are performed during a time when the brain is still developing. “The period where participants are younger and most vulnerable is the period where they are most active.” All factors combine for this group to make their brains more susceptible to injury.
Although a majority of skiing and snowboarding injuries are relatively minor according to Rempson, they range in severity from cuts and bruises to concussions, skull fractures and inter-cranial bleeding. Helmets can help to prevent these injuries by absorbing and disbursing the force. The entire impact, then, does not land on a singular point on the skull.
If one’s child is involved in a accident, though, some obvious signs of head trauma to look for include loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting and headache. Other symptoms may not be as evident and can appear hours or even days later. Sensitivity to light or noise, weakness on one side of the body, loss of concentration and fatigue are all cause for concern and require medical attention as well.
When a child does sustain such injuries, Rempson said it’s often “a big adjustment.”
The effects of a head injury can lasts for several months to a year and can interfere with the child’s ability to participate in school, sports and social activities. Coping with persistent headaches or loss of concentration can cause grades to suffer while noise and light sensitivity make going to the movies or the mall insufferable, limiting social interaction.
“They can become depressed,” according to Rempson. “They have to re-identify who they are socially and academically.”
So before you hit the slopes this winter make sure your kids are outfitted with well-fitting, certified helmets or it’s going to cost you.