Recently, I heard (though I didn't see) a skateboard-car collision outside my apartment in Dartmouth, N.S. It wasn't pretty. There was a horrific squealing of brakes and honking of horns. Within a few minutes, a youthful skateboarder was being loaded onto a stretcher to be carried to an ambulance. The elderly car driver, meanwhile, was being led to a patrol car for questioning.
Since I didn't see the accident, I have no idea who was to blame.
What I do know is if the Longboard Halifax Society, representing the city's skateboarders, has its way, and its petition to allow skateboarders on city streets on the same terms as bicycles is approved, such accidents, and indeed more serious ones, are likely to become considerably more frequent.
The carnage from skateboard accidents is already quite fearsome. In a report on skateboarding, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons cites data from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing in 2001, skateboarding resulted in about 50,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. and 1,500 hospitalizations of children and adolescents, the majority involving head injuries.
Regrettably, some skateboard accidents lead to loss of life. Journalist Teresa Waters, writing in the Skaters for Public Skateparks newsletter in 2012, notes some 42 Americans died while skateboarding in 2011. Of those accidents, nearly three-quarters involved a collision with a vehicle. All of those 30 died while skateboarding in a public street or bike lane.
Among recent skateboard fatalities was Hawaii teen Alan Danielson, who was killed riding his board (without a helmet) while holding onto the back of a truck driven by a friend. To say the least, Danielson's death does little to support the argument, made by many in the skateboarding community, that skateboarders possess the necessary judgment to share public roadways with cars, trucks and buses.
Despite such clear evidence skateboarding on public streets is more dangerous than skateboarding in dedicated locations such as skate parks, some cities have already yielded to pressure from the skateboarding community and now allow skateboards on their streets.
One such city is Portland, Ore., where a city ordinance allows skateboarders on streets but, at least in the downtown core, not on sidewalks. Portland's ordinance also requires skateboarders under 16 to wear helmets and those skating after sunset to wear a reflector or front and back lights.
Here in Canada, Vancouver's skateboarders are allowed to ply their trade on city streets so long as they use caution.
There isn't space here to list all the arguments against allowing skateboards on public streets. But here are a few of the most salient ones. First, it's difficult for drivers to see skateboarders even in the daytime, let alone at night, when many insist on operating.
Second, skateboards are slower enough than cars or even bikes to constitute a serious interruption to normal urban traffic flows. With a maximum top speed of about 25 km/h, as noted by the Longboard Society in its petition, skateboards could cause major traffic snarls, some of which might well induce road rage in frustrated drivers, if allowed onto public roadways.
It's also worth noting it's hard to stop a skateboard quickly, a fact that could have catastrophic consequences should skateboarders be riding in heavy urban traffic and thus be forced to make sudden stops.
Finally, there's the matter of judgment. Many skateboarders are as young as 10. From the way these kids bob around on the sidewalks, apparently expecting other people to look out for them, it's obvious they lack the judgment to be on busy streets in company with cars, trucks and buses.
Instituting a minimum age of at least 16 for skateboarding on the street might help a little. But there would still be problems. First, would such a minimum be enforceable, in practice? The jury is still out on that one. Second, even many boarders older than 16 would appear to lack the necessary judgment to be out on the open road. Alan Danielson, the Hawaii teen referred to earlier, was 18 when he was killed. The list of fatalities provided by Teresa Waters includes boarders in their 20s and even their early 30s, as well as a large number of teens.
To think skateboards can coexist with cars, trucks, buses and bicycles on already seriously overcrowded city streets is naive to the point of lunacy. While governments all across Canada (not just in Nova Scotia) are facing growing pressure from the skateboard lobby, they need to turn down this seriously deluded idea -- for everyone's sake.
Jon Peirce is a freelance writer and part-time English teacher who lives and writes in Dartmouth, N.S.