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Keven Moore: Roller skating is great exercise and fun for the kids, but it’s also a definite safety risk


If you were born in the 1960s and grew up in the ’70s, then you were exposed to your fair share of unsafe playgrounds, toys, lawn jarts, bicycle ramps and lead paint. We rode in the back of pickup trucks, rode bicycles and skateboards without helmets, never wore seat belts or ever applied sunscreen. And we were constantly engulfed in a thick carcinogenic cloud of secondhand smoke, but we are still here.

Like many of you from that generation, I can still remember receiving my first pair of strap-on metal roller skates from Santa one fateful Christmas. I was sent outside without a helmet, elbow or knee pads to go play until the street lights came on; or until I broke my neck on those metal wheels of death.

I can still remember striking a small pebble while rolling down the sidewalk, forcing me to go airborne crashing into a bloody mess. I never got used to those things, and after weighing the risks I discarded them in the garage box never to be seen again; instead opting for my banana seat bicycle as my main means of transportation.

Fast-forward some five or six years later and I eventually was forced to learn how to roller skate to earn my rite of passage into my teenage years. Our parents had carhops and drive-in theaters, but we had disco music and roller rinks, and back then the rage was Champs Rollerdrome.

As a guy if you didn’t go roller skating back then, then you missed out on the opportunity to try to be cool. You could give your bracelet with your initials on it to a girl so that you could say that you were going steady. Yeah, corny as it was, it was what we did back then.

This was an era back before cell phones or social media, and to be relevant you had to be able to skate, or you couldn’t put yourself out there to couple skate with all the beautiful girls from your class. Couple skating around the mirrored ball hanging in the center of the rink with the lights turned down was never the real goal. The mission was to eventually go sit in the corner under the blue lights without any adult supervision. There were many legends created back in those days and none of them could ever get to first-base unless they learned how to skate backward.

This was a generation when roller skating was cool and Linda Ronstadt donned her roller skating outfit on the cover of her album called “Living in the USA.” Or when Scott Baio and Patrick Swayze made skating cool in the movie Skatetown U.S.A. Linda Blair starred in the movie Roller Boogie, and Olivia Newton-John skated away with our hearts across the movie screen in the movie Xanadu.

Over time I eventually got the nerve to leave the friendly confines of the arcade machines and pool tables and mastered the art of skating backwards. It took several falls and bruises. I even learned to fast-skate where you showed off your death-defying talents even if it meant crashing into a heap on the back turn by the handrails. But my blue light romances were nothing to ever write home about back in those middle school days.

Little did I know back in those days that my future wife from a different school was out there skating around looking all pretty and ignoring this ache-faced scrawny looking awkward boy. But I did eventually get the girl some seven or eight years later.

Fast-forward some 40+ years later after the song “S. A. T. U. R. D. A. Y. Night” by the Bay City Rollers came over the radio. My wife and I began to reminisce about those days at Champs Rollerdome. She then blurted out that she thought that she could still skate just as good as she ever did, and then started to try to convince me into going skating again.

Not to doubt my talented wife, but being a safety and risk management professional I had to admire her youthful delusions, and then immediately go into full consultant mode just to convince her that this would be a gigantic bad idea. After all who has the time to spend months healing from a broken hip like all those old people that we grew up hearing about.

I later began to wonder just how the roller-skating industry had fared since those days and wondered just how dangerous this activity still is today. I could remember many situations where classmates had fallen and broke arms or sometimes suffered concussions, but we were all taught to rub dirt on and to get back out there on our skates.

As parents, we all later raised our kids to wear helmets, kneepads, and elbow pads if they wanted to go outside to ride their inline skates; but for some reason if you are skating indoors at a roller rink that safety equipment is usually checked at the door.

So, just how dangerous was it back in those magical days?

To answer this question, I ran across a 1979 New York Times article titled “The Bruises And Breaks Of Roller Skating.” And the first sentence in this article read “WHENEVER a new sports fad sweeps the country, a characteristic syndrome of injuries follows close behind.”

The article claimed that more than 100,000 skaters will be treated in hospital emergency rooms for such injuries as broken fingers, wrists, arms, ankles, legs, and collarbones, chipped teeth, banged‐up faces, and cut‐up arms and legs.

The article was written as if a true risk manager had guided the writer through it. The more I read the more logical it became. Then, there it was. The writer said in clear English for all adults like me to understand with great clarity. “Young children on skates are at least close to the ground and have bones that resist breakage. Their skating injuries rarely amount to more than a sore bottom or a scraped knee, hand, or elbow. But the taller and heavier you are, the harder and farther you fall, and the older you are, the more brittle your bones.”

That’s all the evidence I needed to get my wife to heed my warning. To add more evidence to my counter-argument I also uncovered additional tragic accidents on the internet while roller skating. While injuries from roller-skating accidents are not as common as they once were, death is extremely rare, but it still was not out of the realm of possibility.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

From my research, skating rink liability eventually became a pretty big issue back in those days and many roller-skating rink owners started to find it difficult to afford insurance. As a result, some states had to step in to pass legislation to make it economically feasible for insurance companies to provide coverage to roller skating rinks.

The ability to file a lawsuit against the roller-skating rink still depends on whether the roller skaters and the owner or operator abided by certain rules that were set forth in these states. To counter those risks roller-skating rink owners today post multiple warming signs and safety rules, increase supervision by stationing multiple trained rink guards on the floor to control and discourage risky behavior. They also began to clean their rink floors before every session, installed railing, kickboards, and walls around the skating surface and better began inspecting and maintaining all the rental skates.

Today if someone voluntarily skates at a roller-skating rink, they assume the inherent risks of roller skating that are obvious and necessary. Examples of inherent risks include incidental contact with other skaters or spectators, falls caused by loss of balance, and contact with objects properly located within the roller skater’s intended path.

Incidental contact is the contact that is likely to happen or naturally occurs while roller skating. Many times, when people suffer injuries from these inherent risks, state law prevents them from filing a lawsuit against the rink owner.

Often, to sue a roller-skating rink for injuries sustained while roller skating, the skaters must show that they conducted themselves in a reasonable manner and that they abided by certain rules, as well, and that the rink owner was negligent in some manner.

As your community riskologist, here are some additional safety advice to follow to prevent an injury while roller skating:

• Be cool and wear a safety helmet and padding
• Make sure your roller skates fit properly, and you are wearing appropriate clothing
• Don’t bring food, gum, or drink onto the rink
• Don’t engage in horseplay
• Follow the rink rules
• Do not text or talk on the phone while skating
• Do not push, cut off, or shove other skaters
• Take a break if you do not feel well

Roller skating is a family-friendly-activity that combines fun and exercise, but one that I feel that I have outgrown at my age. Yes, skating can burn calories and improve the cardiovascular health while looping, turning, spinning, and backward skating across the rink floor. But not this risk-averse middle-aged old man. I am comfortable just being old and injury-free and, more importantly, a spectator.

Be safe, my friends.


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