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LET’S GO SKATING - BUT DO IT SAFELY

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It looks like ice skating on the pavement. It's fun but it's also good exercise. And it's increasingly popular.

So popular, in fact, that by some estimates the use of in-line skates - commonly known by one brand-name, Rollerblades - is the fastest-growing sport in the country. Compared with the 3.6 million Americans who used in-line skates at least once in 1990, some 12.4 million did so last year.With increased popularity, however, come more and more injuries involving in-line skates.

This week the U.S. Product Safety Commission projected that in-line skates will be involved in 83,000 injuries this year, more than double the number last year. Children under the age of 15 will suffer 60 per cent of these injuries.

After issuing the projection, the commission promptly patted itself on the back for not recommending a ban on the in-line skates. Big deal! Injuries from in-line skates are still far fewer than bicycle-related injuries, which range from 500,000 to 750,000 a year in the United States, and the government wouldn't dream of trying to ban the two-wheelers.

Instead of government action, all that's needed is a little more common sense on the part of the skaters. Most of the injuries are easily avoidable. How? For openers:

- Always wear protective gear, including a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. Wrists are most often injured, since skaters tend to reach out to break a fall.

- Take lessons or get instructions if you are a beginning skater and learn how to control your speed, turns, braking, and stopping.

- Never skate in motor vehicle traffic.

- Skate on smooth paved surfaces. Avoid pavements with water, oil, debris, sand, gravel, and dirt.

- Never wear anything that restricts your hearing or obstructs your vision.

Yes, we know that the use of helmets is considered unfashionable among skaters. But did you know that the average cost of each skating injury comes to $5,000, including medical bills plus work missed by caretakers and those injured?

If in-line skaters won't take safety precautions to protect their bones, maybe they will do so to protect their wallets.