Spring is upon us, which means kids are clamoring for outside playtime. It's time to break out the bicycles and helmets, or head to the store to buy some new riding toys. But if your child’s ride of choice is a scooter, or if you’re thinking about buying one for your child, you may want to reconsider.

The scooter has earned a dubious distinction of being largely responsible for a 40 percent increase in toy-related injuries measured over a 22-year period, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics. (“Scooter” is a name given to a variety of vehicles, but in this case, it's the foot-powered kind that generally has two small wheels with a skateboard-like base and a handle to steer.)

The study by noted safety expert Gary A. Smith, MD, DRPH, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found the rise in popularity of the foot-powered scooter fueled a surge in emergency room visits by kids.

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Researchers found that between 2000 and 2011, scooters were listed as the cause of 580,037 documented injuries among children and teens. Riding toys, including scooters, account for 42 percent of injuries suffered by kids between ages 5 and 17.

Children injured on scooters are three times more likely to suffer a dislocation or broken bones, according to Smith's study. “The frequency and increasing rate of injuries to children associated with toys, especially those associated with foot-powered scooters, is concerning,” Smith said when he made his findings public.

The timing of the huge leap in injuries coincided with the release of the Razor scooter in 2000. It was immensely popular right out of the gate and was nothing like the plodding scooters of years past. Sales were in the millions, and the injuries started almost immediately.

By the fall of 2000 the problem was already becoming apparent. Between May and August of that year, the number of scooter-related injuries went up eight-fold, the main issue being the combination of speed (these scooters can go fast), balance (skill is required) and their use on public roads.

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Safety advocates began warning about the dangers of scooters as the injuries continued to grow. Scooters were linked to the deaths of more than a dozen boys in 2001. Most of those deaths involved collisions with cars.

Despite being branded as being responsible for the climb in toy-related injuries, scooters can be safer if used properly, according to Smith and others. Here are some steps parents can take to lessen the chance of a scooter-related injury and minimize the severity of any injury that might occur.

  • Be age-appropriate. Only allow your children on age-appropriate toys. Age limits are placed on toys, including scooters, for good reason. Going outside of those limits means taking unnecessary risk.
  • Remember safety gear. Before riding a scooter, be sure your child has on a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads.
  • Enforce rules. Be clear about where your children can ride their scooters, like on a surface that is flat and dry and away from motor vehicles. Because scooter wheels are small, it doesn't take much for one to be stopped in its tracks. Rocks, a rise in the pavement or loose gravel should be avoided. Any of those could knock a scooter off-course.
  • Be there. Supervise any child 8 or younger when they go for a ride. In addition, Razor suggests that scooter riding should be supervised for any child who has not been riding a two-wheeled bicycle for at least six months.
  • Discourage speed. Tell your child to start slowly. It can take a while to get acclimated to the scooter and understand its balance. Just because some other kid goes fast or does tricks doesn't mean that they should.

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Mitch Lipka is a consumer columnist and product safety expert. He was the 2011 recipient of the "Kids Best Friend Award" from Kids In Danger for his commitment to reporting on children’s product safety.