SHOULD CHILDRENS SLEDS have headlights? That may sound like a silly question, but it came up in a serious context the other day when the Supreme Court declined to review a case involving a Western Maryland sledding accident II years ago.
The girl involved had been sledding down a road after a dark and had run into a car at an intersecton. The collision nearly killed her and left her with permanent disabilities, including some brain damage and no use of her right arm. Her mother has said that the hospital bills are still not paid.
The legal issue was whether the family could collect damages from the driver of the car. The Maryland courts said no, because the child had been at fault. Under earlier state-court rulings, a sled is regarded as a vehichle - and vehicles used after dark are supposed to have lights. If the sled had been so equipped, the circuit judge involved said recently, the girl might have had the right of way. But as it was, the driver - who was not speeding - could not see her and could not be held liable.
Should sleds have headlights? For safety's sake, perhaps so - plus horns, better brakes, crash-absorbing bumpers and, ideally, air bags too. But nobody is going to make or buy sleds burdened with all that. And that's the real message here: Because sleds don't have those safety aids, they simply should not be used on dark roads and other places where the dangers are so great. It's the same principle we would apply to skateboards - some playthings are inherently and irredeemable accident-prone. This offers no solace to that Garrett County girl and her parents. But their sad experience may be a timely warning to other families.