Power Wheels and the Never-Ending Safety Dilemma.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of waking up on your birthday to a green-wrapped Ford Mustang with your name on it.
Even if said car is 10 times smaller than the real thing and you’re only 6 years old, the sentiment is never quite lost on any age.
These ride-on vehicles, electric-powered toy cars perhaps better known by their most popular brands such as Power Wheels, have become an increasing favorite with our little ones and their unending quest to play ‘grown-up’.
But how did this miniaturized vehicle’s craze started, and more importantly, Are power wheels dangerous?
Power Wheels History
A quick glance at history highlights that ride-on and push cars made their breakthrough as far back as the 1890s.
However, it wasn’t until the 30s when luxury automobile companies such as Bugatti started releasing miniature-sized versions of their original cars did we see more colourful and ‘lifelike’ upgrades from the toy’s previous 4-tires wooden block models (History of Battery Ride on Cars, 2016). By the 1960s, Louis Marx’s
The Big Wheel toy company has revolutionised the previously clunky invention, lowering the centre of gravity and moulding the body and ‘tires’ from plastic to make the toy more durable and still enthralling for children with its low-ground illusion of speed (Williams, 2019).
Today the varieties are even more creative, with Power Wheels expanding its latest line of collections to give kids access to Jeep Hurricanes, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, or even Pixar’s Lightning McQueen.
The reason electric toy vehicles are quick to gain popularity goes beyond our younglings’ endless imaginings to mimic their parents: It is also a great learning opportunity for their curious minds. The We the Parents website, for instance, has highlighted how toy vehicles can offer lessons about mechanics and even road safety in the hands of parents who are willing to put in the effort.
A great parent-child bonding booster and a 12V power for your Schumacher-wannabe kids to race around in the backyard? There is no mystery why these ride-on cars sell so well.
Power Wheels: A safety hazard?
There is unfortunately a downside to all fun innovations. According to a study published in the Clinical Pediatrics Journal, powered vehicles such as mini-cars, wagons, tricycles, and others account for 35 % of child injuries.
The study, which comprised 20 years of hospital data, observed that ‘ride-on’ toys have sent 149.000 kids to the hospital every year until 2014, making up 43% of hospital admissions of the under-18s (Abraham et al., 2014). What exactly makes them dangerous?
Predictably, having yet to collect embarrassing stories from their driving school days, our children cannot all be natural-born F1 drivers in the making. This means that more often than not crashes are unavoidable, especially in their first times going ‘on the road’.
It is understandable that this might serve as a constant source of worry for parents, given that childhood injuries can range from mild scratches to other more serious wounds. Accidents likewise occur as a result of common misuses.
Standing on the moving toy vehicles, for instance, can often cause them to tip sideways as Power Wheels lack the balancing bulk our normal cars are expectedly equipped with.
Unfortunately, more dangerous albeit much rarer injuries have taken place. Letting children ride unsupervised on open roads can lead to even greater dangers of traffic hazards.
Furthermore, motorized toy cars have been known to malfunction in the past, ranging from minimal disturbances such as parts coming off to those of much higher risks, namely engines burning up and failing brakes.
In fact, Fisher-Price, the company behind Power Wheels itself, has settled a fine of $1.1 million to the US CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) in 2001 for the supposed failure to report serious safety defects in their ‘ride-on’ toys, the biggest civil penalty ever levied against a toy company (T, 2021).
Laying out the most hazardous risks of these toy vehicles has perhaps only fuelled parents’ worst nightmares. We don’t blame you if you start asking the ultimate question: to buy or not to buy?
Are the plausible risks truly worth that dazzling smile on your child’s face when they lay eyes on their own first ‘Mercedes’?
The new ride-on cars: learning from past mistakes
Luckily, there might be some blessings in disguise from all past charges against these toy car manufacturers.
The penalty levied against Fisher-Price led to the implementation of stellar safety standards by all companies on their ‘ride-on’ products, largely in fear of losing huge amounts over fines should they resort to the same mistakes (T, 2021).
These improvements manifest themselves in various forms. One of the most important is arguably the addition of the parental remote-control device that allows supervising adults to stop, steer, accelerate, or turn off the vehicle from afar whilst the kids are maneuvering it.
Moreover, the installment of seat belts kills two birds with one stone by not only protecting your child in the event of a collision but likewise ingraining the importance of wearing the belt for their later real-life driving years.
The new braking system concurrently wards off further hazards by ensuring that kids can immediately stop their ride whenever they see danger ahead.
Besides these clear-cut safety additions, there are other less subtle yet equally important modifications to the newer models of Power Wheels.
Their all-polycarbonate material serves as crucial protection should a crash occur and the new suspension system prevents bumpy rides on different terrains.
Some extra technological ticks are also substantial, such as the instalment of a speed lock button that prevents children who are yet to be capable drivers to go at the highest speed and the toy’s new pressure plate that ingeniously prohibits the vehicle to start when the maximum weight capacity is exceeded such as when there are too many children onboard.
Taking precautions: tips for your kids’ safety ride
Nevertheless, the efficacy of all these safeguarding technologies ultimately rests upon the hands of the little users, and more crucially, their parents.
Smart techs require smart handling and no number of prior precautions can guarantee the perfect result without efforts from users alike.
The right toy
First thing first, when you are scouting the perfect ‘ride-on’ gift for your little ones, make sure to seek the appropriate toy vehicle according to their age.
Most battery-operated toy cars nowadays include an age recommendation that can serve as a safe starting point for parents.
After the initial purchase, the key lies in the three magic words: teach, maintain, and supervise. Follow operational instructions properly, and more importantly, make sure to train your child to do so.
This includes all the basics from properly seating your child and allowing them to ride one person at a time to instilling the importance of wearing a helmet.
Although these precautions might seem insignificant, maintaining the weight balance can keep the vehicle stable and prevent it from de-stabilising while helmets are crucial to avoid head injuries.
Furthermore, maintenance is fundamental in avoiding unwanted malfunctions. Always ensure that all parts of the vehicle are working properly before allowing your children to go for a ride.
Similarly, battery safety practice and proper storage are crucial for fully-functioning, safe, and durable Power Wheels. Replace the vehicle’s battery as soon as it is depleted and utilise only the correct model as suggested by the manufacturing company.
Proper storage likewise requires discipline and care from parents. We recommend placing the Power Wheels indoor when not in use or utilise protective covers if this is not possible. This will keep your child’s favourite toy safe from mould and rust in case of rain or snow.
Lastly, always be on the lookout for a safe riding environment. Letting our children out on the driveways unsupervised is the root of all bad ideas. Instead, make sure that they are always within your peripheries and off the busy streets.
Another less instinctual advice is to ensure that your child does not ride on steep terrains.
Although most Power Wheels are usually designed for rough outdoors, it is crucial to keep in mind that the vehicle can easily topple over due to its size, resulting in unwanted injuries and crashes.
Powered vehicle: to buy or not to buy?
For those who are thinking of getting these ‘ride-on’ vehicles for their little ones’ summer surprise, you might still struggle to make a decision after weighing all the odds.
This is completely normal. Although we might not be able to offer you an ultimatum on whether to buy or not to buy this classic favorite, for cautious parents it is perhaps useful to keep in mind that there is no risk-free decision in life.
Just as the highly developing airplane technology can never fully eliminate the risk of flying, even if Power Wheels’ modifications reach the state of the art in minimalizing safety hazards, there will always be a plausible room for errors.
This does not, however, signify that all potential new ventures for our children should be a no-go. After all, we still board that airplane to see our loved ones or to chase our dream job in a new country.
Isn’t childhood also about making small mistakes and re-learning from them?
As long as proper guidelines are responsibly followed by both parents and children, there is perhaps little harm in letting our little ones have a blast at their brand-new Jurassic Park Wrangler Jeep.
If some little scratches get in the way, that cheeky grin from our determined F1 drivers-wannabe might just be enough to make up for it.
Modern Power Wheels or RIde ons are not as dangerous as their predecessors. Modern technology has gone a long way to improving the safety of our children while using motorized toys. Features like seatbelts, high-speed lockout, and remote controls help us take more control of our children’s safety.