"Many parents don't seem to be aware of the potential dangers of private go-karts," said David Cline, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist 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 study results were presented today at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago by Annemarie Relyea-Chew, J.D., M.S., from the University of Washington in Seattle. Relyea-Chew and colleagues conducted the research while she was a graduate student at Wake Forest Baptist.
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 remainder of the results will be published later.
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," said Cline, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
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 the go-cart. Injuries included severe injuries to the face and neck from running into a wire fence, skull fractures and brain injuries from a collision or ejection, and injuries to the arms and legs from being run over.
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 those injured weren't driving the go-cart, but were seated on the driver's lap or standing on the frame and ejected. "Even in cases where there is an older driver, younger children are being injured when they are riding in someone's lap or standing on the vehicle," said Cline.
He said the vehicles pose a variety of dangers, such as exposed gas tanks, machinery and engines and no protection for the head, arms and legs.
"With the exception of seat belts, none of the safety features that are built into cars are included on go-karts," Cline said.
It could not be determined whether four of the patients were wearing helmets. Ten of the remaining 14 patients (71 percent) were not wearing helmets.
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."
In addition, Cline said children should be at least 12 years old and weigh more than 80 pounds to operate go-carts and that in some cases even higher standards are advised.
"We don't have enough data to say who is truly safe," he said.
In addition to Cline and Relyea-Chew, other researchers were Marta Heilburn, M.D., with Wake Forest Baptist and Felix Chew, M.D., now with the University of Washington.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university's School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" by U.S. News & World Report.