As Americans prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, safety nannies will be urging a national ban on the sale and use of consumer fireworks.
Citing injuries to children as the primary concern, a report in the July issue of Pediatrics will reiterate the American Academy of Pediatrics long-standing call for a consumer fireworks ban. It’s no coincidence that the study is being released the day before our July 4 holiday.
But before we allow the nannies to trample over our recreational – not to mention our civil – liberties on the holiday intended to celebrate liberty itself, let’s consider a few relevant points.
First, there’s no question that unsafe use of fireworks – like unsafe use of virtually anything – can cause injury and/or death.
In the case of fireworks, since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission began keeping records in 1976, the number of fireworks-related injuries has ranged between 7,300 injuries to 12,600 injuries per year; about 45 percent of the injuries occur in children under 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But during this time, the consumption of fireworks has risen nearly 10-fold – from 29 million pounds in 1976 to 281.5 million pounds in 2005. The annual rate of fireworks injuries has actually declined from 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks sold in 1976 to 3.8 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks sold in 2005, according to the CPSC.
This improved safety rate cannot be attributed to an increase in sales to professional pyrotechnicians. The consumption of backyard fireworks -- which are legal in 45 states -- hit a record high of 255 million pounds in 2005, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. Sales to professional pyrotechnicians account for less than 10 percent of the total sales of fireworks.
The bottom line is that more backyard fireworks are being used more safely than ever before.
Undoubtedly, the self-righteous nannies among us will gasp that even a single injury is one too many. Ideally that would be true. But in the real world, such intolerance is neither practiced nor practical.
More than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger are treated every year in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries, according to the CDC. During the 1990s, 147 children died from playground injuries. Climbers on public playgrounds and home swings appear to be the most “dangerous” equipment.
Although some schools have altered or removed some pieces of playground equipment – slides, monkey bars, and merry-go-rounds, for example – due to liability concerns in our litigation-prone society, there is no call to ban playgrounds in order to avoid injuries to children.
Similarly, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among U.S. children (an average of 5 deaths per day according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). While we may try to make cars safer in order to reduce the likelihood and severity of injury, we don’t ban children from riding in cars.
The nannies may try to counter that while cars and playgrounds have social utility that outweighs the risks they entail, the risks of backyard fireworks far outweigh their social utility. But backyard fireworks, when used safely, have great social utility in that they are simply fun.
It’s important to note that the lead author of the Pediatrics report -- Center for Injury Research and Policy director Gary Smith -- seems to be more anti-fun that pro-safety. He’s not recommending steps for increased fireworks safety, but simply calling for an outright ban.
Moreover, Smith has published numerous reports in just the past year about the dangers inherent to a host of recreational activities including: trampolines (should not be used at home); cheerleading (uniform rules and regulations needed to increase safety); sledding (a program is needed to increase helmet use); water-skiing and wake-boarding (helmets and other protective gear should be worn); and ice skating (children should wear helmets).
Smith has also gone after more mundane things such as riding lawnmowers (children under 16 shouldn’t operate them); eyeglasses (safer designs needed) and shopping carts (should be redesigned to decrease tip-over hazards). He seems only to have overlooked the danger of mindlessly scaring people about everything.
I’m more than happy to let behavior nannies like Smith and the American Academy of Pediatrics stay inside with their helmets on and worship at the altar of safety-at-all-costs. But they should leave the rest of us alone to enjoy the blessings of freedom – safely, of course.