Safety Concerns Associated With Children’s Toys Left In Yards, Driveways And Sidewalks

By MARK DEVOLDER
Los Alamos

Some children in Los Alamos County leave their toys scattered around in yards and driveways or on walkways to homes and County sidewalks.

There are some safety issues associated with this practice:

  1. A motor vehicle operator could back over a child or a toy in a driveway;
  2. Pedestrians (including Federal Express and UPS personnel delivering packages) might have trouble walking around toys left on a sidewalk; and
  3. LAFD personnel attending to a residential fire at night might trip over a toy in the dark.

There are other issues too. Children may use their toys on streets or play various types of games in streets. Motor vehicle operators are trained to watch out for balls in roadways because a child might suddenly run out to retrieve a ball.

Children attend school and are not allowed to leave coats, backpacks, i-phones, and other items in random locations. The aisles between desks in schools need to be kept clear to prevent tripping. Teachers may walk around in classrooms to monitor student behavior. Children may suddenly get sick and need to go to a restroom. School hallways need to be kept clear for evacuation purposes. And unfortunately, we live in a time when there are school shootings.

Children grow into adults and have the same kinds of issues with grown-up toys. If children are properly trained on how to handle, care for, maintain, and store their toys, then this productive behavior might carry over into adulthood.

There are a variety of problems which occur with toys.

How these problems are addressed directly affects how similar issues are handled as children grow into adults:

  1. Toys become contaminated with a variety of substances such as chemicals, dirt, food residues, melted crayons, food coloring, adhesive-back labels, sticky substances such as glue, etc. Cleaning these materials off the surfaces of toys can be difficult. Stains may be left on the toy. Many toys contain batteries. Batteries can degrade over time and may corrode internal surfaces on toys. Sometimes the toys are beyond recovery and require discard;
  2. Toys are often composed of components (parts) and are in kit form. Often an important part may be lost. When an important part is lost or a substantial number of parts are lost (for example, puzzle pieces), the toy is often beyond recovery. The parts may not even be useful for repairing the same or a similar toy;
  3. Toys or toy parts may be damaged. Dogs that get a hold of toys chew on the toys and leave teeth marks on soft items such as Barbie dolls. Damaged toys or toy parts can often be repaired. However, the resulting toy may be in poor condition. This creates an issue of what child in the future might want to acquire and play with such a toy. However, there are children who are so poor that any toy in any condition might still be a treasure. Some children in northern New Mexico get nothing for Christmas. Therefore, a serviceable toy might still be desirable;
  4. Garbage bags of used toys, toy parts, last year’s Christmas discards, etc. are available at garage sales. Unfortunately, many items are in disrepair, missing parts and pieces, dirty, and/or stained with contaminates. Some of the toys and toy parts are beyond repair or re-use and end up at the Los Alamos Ecostation where the material creates an environmental problem. This is particularly the case for electronic toys which contain printed circuit boards, lead solder, toxic semiconductor materials, and toxic nickel-cadmium batteries. Discarded electronics toys which no longer work need to go into the electronics salvage bin at the Los Alamos Ecostation; and
  5. In addition to lost or damaged parts, many discarded toys do not have the original box or instructions. If a Lego kit does not have a picture / drawing of the original kit item or assembly instructions, it is difficult to create a finished toy item. The mixing of parts from four or five Lego kits creates something which cannot be built up into anything resembling the individual kits. Therefore, the item(s) may be useless.

Recommendation: Children need to be taught not to tear toys apart. In addition, toys in kit form need to be stored away in some kind of container (preferably the original toy container along with the assembly instructions. A good alternative is to put toys/toy parts or toy kit parts from a particular toy into an individual plastic bag and close the bag with a wire twist tie. Putting toys in an open box is not a good idea, because tiny parts tend to leak out of the corners or bottom of the box. However, it is a good idea to put bagged -up toys into some kind of box. This is not rocket science and does not require much time. Care of a toy is a good teaching tool and creates more capable children and adults. It is also an environmentally sustainable practice.

Recommendation: Clean and serviceable toys may be donated to thrift stores. It may not help to drop off serviceable toys at the Ecostation Re-use area because the toys may be discarded after a few days. The United Church in Los Alamos also has periodic sales for a variety of toys.

Recommendation: Batteries which have exceeded their useful life need to be removed from the toy and discarded per the instructions on the batteries. There is an area at the Los Alamos Ecostation for discarding nickel-cadmium batteries. Alkaline batteries may be disposed of in green roll-off bins as normal trash.

Some Nuisance Code guidance/other guidance is needed for toys:

  1. Is it acceptable to have toys randomly scattered around yards and driveways or on walkways to homes and County sidewalks?
  2. What is the definition of a toy (for example, tricycles, bicycles, go-carts, two-wheel and four-wheel conveyances, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), scooters, small motorcycles / minibikes, skateboards, roller blades, plastic pre -school toys, plastic and metal / Tonka-type push toys, radio control (RC) cars, electronic toys, dartboards, various types of balls, pogo sticks, dolls, stuffed animals, small wading pools, large plastic dollhouses, etc.) ?
  3. Some owners have trampolines in yards too. During a recent windstorm, an unanchored trampoline blew out on to San Ildefonso;
  4. If toys are left in a yard and a neighbor’s child decides to play with the toys, then the toy owner is potentially liable if the child is injured. The law makes exceptions for children who trespass on residential properties – particularly if the property from a child’s perspective seems attractive or a fun place to play;
  5. There is also the potential for increased homeowner insurance rates for residential properties if a child or a person is injured;
  6. A pet might get tangled up or caught in some kind of toy;
  7. Children can drain in a 5-gallon bucket of water; and
  8. Children can suffocate if they are playing with a plastic dry cleaning bag. (Note: I know of two children who died in this manner, and the effect on the father was devastating.)

I do not think that the toy issue needs to be elevated to a criminal offense, but it does need some kind of attention. Perhaps a courtesy notice is needed and nothing more.

Recommendation: I think it is appropriate that children gather up their toys once they are finished playing with or using them. It would be helpful if the toys are stored near a house (for example, near the front porch of a house, near the side of a house, etc.). Call it a toy parking area if you wish.