Parents who are considering buying go-karts for their children this holiday season beware: children who are hospitalized because of go-cart accidents require an average hospital stay of about five days, according to a new study.
Furthermore, more than half of the children hospitalized required at least one operation and almost a third required two or more operations.
"Many parents don't seem to be aware of the potential dangers of private go-karts," said David Cline, an emergency medicine specialist at Wake Forest University Baptists Medical Center and one of the study researchers. "Many of these injuries were severe, and all children required follow-up care after they left the hospital."
The information on go-cart injuries was part of a larger study of 160 children ages 16 and under who were admitted to the hospital from April 1998 to April 2003 as a result of injuries from all-terrain vehicles, go-carts, mini-bikes and golf carts. The findings were presented today at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago.
Private go-carts are largely unregulated
While public go-cart tracks have safety restrictions, privately owned go-carts are largely unregulated. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 10,000 go-cart injuries to children 15 and younger occur each year.
"Unsupervised children have the potential to sustain serious injuries," Cline said.
The researchers reviewed patients' medical records to learn more about their injuries. The 18 children injured on go-carts ranged in age from 2 years to almost 16 years - the average age was 10.3 years.
Injuries were the result of collisions with stationary objects or moving vehicles or losing control of the go-cart and rolling over. Some children were ejected from the go-cart and then struck by either another vehicle or their own go-cart.
In one case, a child had leg fractures when his leg and foot were caught between the cart frame and a tree. In another, the driver ran into the rear of a parked truck. Another plunged off an embankment onto concrete. Another child's finger was nearly severed when the go-cart flipped and his hand was caught under the cart and wheel.
Five of the injury cases involved go-kart passengers who were sitting in someone else's lap or standing in the vehicle.
A variety of dangers
Cline said go-karts pose a variety of dangers, such as exposed gas tanks, machinery and engines and no protection for the head, arms and
"With the exception of seat belts, none of the safety features that are built into cars are included on go-karts," Cline said.
Cline said children should not be allowed to operate the carts without adult supervision.
"Children lack the maturity to safely operate these vehicles without supervision," he said. "The dangers are magnified when no adult is present."
Cline believes that at the very minimum, children should be at least 12 years old and weigh more than 80 pounds to operate go-carts.
"We don't have enough data to say who is truly safe," he said.