Of course: Police tell smiling kids to go home because sledding on Capitol Hill is outlawed

It is perhaps the most parodically kill-joy practice of nanny-state American city officals of late, banning sledding on any public property to cover their legal derrieres lest someone bust their literal derriere on a hill that is supposed to be owned by “the people.” That’s always the pitch when a city is asking for money for parks and public lands. These lands will belong to all of us, they say, preserving the beauty of communion with nature and outdoor fun for all. But don’t actually have fun. Whatever you do, don’t incur one tiny bit of risk in your attempts to enjoy yourselves on this land you have so generously funded.

Today, as snow fell in our nation’s capital, pathetically and predictably paralyzing the area*, some families had the temerity to take sleds to a place called Capitol Hill to take advantage of the natural lay of the land. Nope, sayeth the police. It’s not their fault. It’s the law and they’re just enforcing it. But no one can sled on Capitol Hill because 9/11? I understand we have security concerns, but this seems a pretty high price to pay. As Robby Soave notes at Reason, have not the terrorists already won?

Of course, in the most disgustingly Washington, D.C. twist of all time, if you know someone, you may be able to apply for a sledding waiver. This is apparently not a joke, though a quoted police officer contradicted this claim.

Jessica Zippin, a professional dog-walker who lives on Capitol Hill, was one of a few dozen would-be sledders warned by police not to slide the slopes on the southwest front of the Capitol.

“They felt bad about it so they encouraged people to try to reach their member of Congress,” said Ms. Zippin, who instead tossed snowballs with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. “Because a member of Congress can issue a waiver and then you’re free to sled,” she said she was told by the police.

In the words of Garth, “if you’re gonna spew, spew into this.”

You have to know someone to sled on a hill in this town. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an unofficial way of getting around the rule, so both the quoted resident and quoted cop are technically correct. It’s so perfectly gross, so maybe I’m falling victim to confirmation bias. If you know a Senator, please use this publicly owned and funded land on which to have all the fun. Otherwise, go on home, hoi polloi, dragging your sled behind you slump-shouldered with Target bags on your tennis shoes.

The scourge of outlawing fun in the snow has spread across the nation in the face of insane liability lawsuits and cowardly public officials. Discouragingly, this scourge has even taken hold in the Midwest, which you would hope would be immune to such things:

The City Council in Dubuque, Iowa, voted last week to ban sledding in all but two of 50 parks. Dubuque joins a growing list of cold-weather towns that prohibit or restrict sledding on public property, according to trend-spotters at the Associated Press.

Others include Des Moines, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; and Columbia City, Ind. Downstate Paxton, Ill., went so far as to remove its sledding hill two winters ago because of liability concerns.

Nationwide, sledding injuries sent 229,000 kids to emergency rooms between 1997 and 2007, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio. About a quarter of those injuries were broken bones. The most commonly injured body part: the head.

The even scarier numbers seem to be the seven- and eight-digit legal settlements resulting from a handful of those injuries: $2.4 million to the family of an Omaha 5-year-old whose sled hit a tree; $12 million after a Boone, Iowa, sledder ran into a concrete cube at the bottom of a hill; $2.8 million after a Sioux City, Iowa, man crashed into a stop sign.

Faced with the aforementioned conditions, my kid and I ventured out today for her first sledding attempt of her life. She’s 18 months old. We kept it chill, but I’d like her to have the chance to take some risks later in life, even (especially) if the best hills are on land I’m constantly asked to fund in every ballot measure that comes through the voting booth. My brother broke his foot on a closed city street when he was 12. I can’t imagine my hometown allows that anymore, and what a shame. He had a blast, his foot healed, and no one sued anyone.

Even Slate says chill with the sledding bans, y’all. Will wonders never cease? The writer puts the risks in perspective while rightly noting, sledding is snowtime fun for kids who can’t afford skiing. It certainly was for us, hence my brother’s broken foot.

But by comparison, consider that trampolines caused nearly 79,000 ER-worthy injuries in kids under 14 in 2012, and television sets caused 26,000. (That doesn’t include the permanent hearing loss kids got from watching Dora the Explorer.) Sledding becomes much less dangerous when it’s done a certain way, too—and that’s precisely why these park sledding bans are a problem: Open spaces such as parks are among the safest places for kids to sled. One study found that the odds of going to the ER for sledding injuries were five times higher in children who had been sledding on the street compared with in the park.* Injuries sustained while street sledding are often much worse, too, and are more likely to involve traumatic brain injuries. But where are kids without big backyards going to sled if they can’t do it in the park? The street, of course.

But, you say, if kids can’t sled in parks, perhaps they just won’t sled at all! Maybe, but this outcome isn’t all roses, either. Children are much, much less likely to get the physical activity they need when it’s cold and windy out. Sledding solves this problem—kids love it and it provides exceptional exercise. It’s like the StairMaster, but with snow and brief high-speed interludes. Indeed, sledding burns as many calories per hour as skiing, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and more accessible.

Of course, this isn’t about safety, really. It’s about liability. We’ve got to learn how to stand up to this kind of thing and find a happy medium. Where children can be happy.

*Including my childcare and power at times, so fingers crossed that this goes up smoothly.