Whenever I talk to older, non-skateboarders about the fact that I, A) skate in the street and B) never wear a helmet, they show a mom-type mixture of surprise, fear, and disappointment. People who have never skated assume that skateboarding is unavoidably dangerous, like playing chicken with a train or shooting a gun into a hurricane. But as a skateboarder, that assumption rings not only completely false, but irrelevant. Worrying about getting hurt on your skateboard goes against the carefree ethos that makes skateboarding enjoyable in the first place.
So when I saw recently that a politician in Ohio proposed a bill to penalize skateboarders for skitching — holding onto a moving car while riding your board — I wanted to find out what people think this rule might achieve, and whether it has any precedence.
For some context, the anti-skitching bill, a.k.a. the Dallas Swogger Act, is named after a sixteen-year-old Ohioan who died in a skitching accident last September. While holding onto a friend’s car, Dallas fell off his board and hit his head on the ground. A few days later, he died in the hospital.
The bill intends to prevent future accidents like this by adding skateboards to the list of devices — bicycles, roller skates, toy vehicles, etc. — that Ohioans are already not allowed to ride while holding onto a moving vehicle. First time offenders, which can include the driver if they knowingly allow the skitch, would be ticketed up to $150, and repeat offenders could be charged with low-level misdemeanors.
The motivation for the Dallas Swogger Act is fine; nothing to fault about wanting to prevent death. But it’s not really designed to protect skateboarders from the most common causes of skateboarding realted injuries.
Death by skitching is indeed rare. I have a Google Alert that notifies me every time an English language headline appears with variants of the words “skateboard” and “death.” Not including Dallas Swogger, two people in the U.S. in 2017 died while skitching a car on their skateboards. The first, a 15-year-old, died in April, and the second, a 9-year-old, died in June. Both lived in California.
But in that same year, nine people in the U.S. were struck and killed by cars while riding skateboards. Clearly, the bigger danger to skateboarders isn’t them deciding to skitch. It’s drivers being inattentive and running over skateboarders. So if someone wants to stop skateboarding traffic deaths, they need to focus on the people inside the cars, not out.
The Dallas Swogger Act isn’t the first legislative response to injured kids in the news. California’s 2003 statewide helmet law, for instance, was enacted in response to a 9-year-old kid who hit his head after falling off his scooter. Granted, skateboarders shouldn’t be punished for anything involving scooters, but it’s a worthy reminder of the power of concerned citizens.
Helmet laws, like anti-skitching laws, are ways for non-skateboarders to feel like they can make skateboarders act more responsibly, and that logic is those laws’ biggest flaw. Compared to other wheeled thingamajigs, like scooters — which out of all toys, cause the most injuries among kids annually — or bicycles — which as of 2016, the most recent data year, were involved in over 450,000 E.R. trips while skateboards were only involved in 113,000 trips — skateboards are already statistically much safer. Tightening laws on skateboarders feels like a disingenuous attempt to curb skating’s already relatively low injury rate.
Ten years ago, researchers even studied whether or not skateboards were dangerous. Their conclusion? “Despite its negative image among the medical fraternity, the skateboard does not appear to be a dangerous sport with a low incidence and injuries encountered being not severe.”
Bottom line: policing skitching more harshly won’t make the act any safer, and any skaters who want to skitch will do so regardless of a law. A penalty isn’t likely to deter even the brokest of skaters from doing what they want. Plenty cities already make it illegal to skate on sidewalks — arguably the safest place for skateboarders outside of skateparks — and instead force skateboarders into poorly constructed roads alongside inattentive drivers. That’s dumb, and adding more anti-skating laws won’t fix it.
Skateboarders aren’t going to disappear or restrict themselves to skateparks as a result of harsher laws and fines. If the concern of local and state governments is genuinely to prevent skateboarding related injuries and deaths, what will make a difference is developing laws to keep skaters safer in the streets rather than penalize them in hope of their extinction.
February 12, 2018 3:22 pm
Never felt the need to skitch.
Also never seen Busenitz skitch and he’s always going fast…
February 12, 2018 4:04 pm
This is a common thing in the US (probably other places too) in that there is this idea if one incidence of one thing happens somewhere that is bad then a law can fix it. For instance, look for real evidence of someone actually dying from poisoned candy at Halloween that was meant for distribution to a large number of kids. It has not actually ever happened. In Haverhill, MA near where I used to live they “moved halloween night” because then all of the bad people would not know about it… like they don’t read the paper? As a parent, I disagree with fun police laws. I want my kid to take risks and understand if you screw up there are consequences. Do I want that consequence to be death? Of course not. But I understand that these things are a part of life. As a skater, and actually a safe one (I am an old guy) I have way more of a chance being shot walking into the local grocery store than dying because I fucked up an Ollie. I don’t dwell on either of those :-)
February 12, 2018 5:34 pm
these kooks are soon gonna ban skateboarding itself for being dangerous. what a bunch of assholes
December 5, 2018 12:58 pm
Not true. Skateboarding is taking a risk of injuries. Every time someone buys a skateboard do they need to read on a package. DANGEROUS. PLEASE USE CAUTION WHILE USING. NO, people know that skateing is taking a chance of some sort of injurie if people are stupid enough not to take safety precautions
Then that’s there prblem as they dont have to cross country to buy a helmet and knee pads
February 12, 2018 6:03 pm
Skating is way more dangerous than normal bike riding. I guess maybe not if its a high speed or mountain biking situation. Skitching shouldn’t be illegal. Its already bad enough that skating is basically pushed into parks or backyards because private property is “off limits”. I don’t like fucking up private property, but thats what there is. Skating only in a park would suck.
February 16, 2018 3:11 am
No skateboarding IS NOT more dangerous than bicycling as he stated in his article. Bikes share the road with moving vehicles, and as the statistics show, that’s where skateboarders get injured. Just making that clear :)
February 19, 2018 2:14 pm
There may be more ER trips by bicyclists (450,000) compared to skateboards (113,000), but according to google there are 66 million cyclists in the United States and only 9 million skateboarders. So based on those numbers, 0.68% of all cyclists in the United States will be involved in an ER visit while for skateboarders that number increases to 1.3%.
Overall I totally agree the law doesn’t make any sense but I just wanted to point out the incorrect assumption on the statistics.