Safety concerns related to children’s toys left in yards, driveways and sidewalks

By MARK DEVOLDER
Los Alamos

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

There are some security issues associated with this practice:

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

There are other problems too. Children can use their toys on the street or play different kinds of games on the street. Motorists are trained to watch for balls on roads because a child might suddenly run out to get a ball.

Children attend school and are not allowed to leave coats, backpacks, iPhones and other items in random places. The aisles between desks in schools must be kept clear to avoid trip hazards. Teachers can walk around the classrooms to monitor student behavior. Children may suddenly become ill and need to go to a toilet. School corridors are to be kept clear for evacuation purposes. And unfortunately, we live in an era of school shootings.

Children grow into adults and have the same problems with adult toys. When children are properly trained in how to handle, care for, maintain and store their toys, these productive behaviors can carry over into adulthood.

There are a variety of problems encountered with toys.

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

  1. Toys become contaminated with a variety of substances such as chemicals, dirt, food scraps, melted crayons, food coloring, self-adhesive labels, sticky substances such as glue, etc. Cleaning these materials from toy surfaces can be difficult. Stains may remain on the toy. Many toys contain batteries. Batteries can degrade over time and corrode the internal surfaces of toys. Sometimes the toys cannot be saved and have to be disposed of;
  2. Toys are often made up of components (parts) and are in kit form. Often an important part can be lost. If an important part is lost or a significant number of parts are lost (e.g. pieces of a puzzle), the toy is often beyond salvage. The parts may not even be useful for repairing the same or a similar toy;
  3. Toys or toy parts can be damaged. Dogs that snag toys will chew on the toy and leave teeth marks on soft objects like Barbie dolls. Damaged toys or toy parts can often be repaired. However, the resulting toy may be in poor condition. This raises the question of what a child might want to acquire and play with such a toy in the future. However, there are children who are so poor that any toy in any condition could still be a treasure. Some kids in northern New Mexico get nothing for Christmas. Therefore, a usable toy might still be desirable;
  4. Garbage bags with used toys, toy parts, last year’s Christmas waste, etc. are available at the flea market. Unfortunately, many items are in poor condition, missing parts and parts, dirty and/or stained with impurities. Some of the toys and toy parts cannot be repaired or reused and end up in the Los Alamos Ecostation, where the material causes an environmental problem. This is especially true for electronic toys that contain circuit boards, lead solder, toxic semiconductor materials and toxic nickel-cadmium batteries. Discarded electronic toys that no longer work go to the Los Alamos Ecostation electronic waste. and
  5. In addition to lost or damaged parts, many discarded toys do not have the original packaging or instructions. If a Lego kit does not include a picture/drawing of the original kit item or building instructions, it will be difficult to create a finished toy item. Mixing parts from four or five Lego kits creates something that cannot be built into anything resembling the individual kits. Therefore, the articles may be useless.

Recommendation: Children must be taught not to tear toys apart. In addition, toys that come in kit form must be kept in some form of container (preferably in the original toy container along with the building instructions). A good alternative is to place toys/toy parts or toy kit parts from a specific toy in a plastic bag and seal the bag with a zip tie. It’s not a good idea to put toys in an open box, as small parts tend to spill out of the corners or bottom of the box. However, it’s a good idea to store bags of toys in some sort of box. This isn’t rocket science and doesn’t take much time. Taking care of a toy is a good teaching tool and creates more powerful children and adults. It is also an environmentally sound practice.

Recommendation: Clean and usable toys can be donated to thrift stores. It may not help to put usable toys in the Ecostation reuse area, as the toys may be discarded after a few days. The United Church at Los Alamos also has regular sales for a variety of toys.

Recommendation: Batteries that have exceeded their useful life must be removed from the toy and disposed of according to the instructions on the batteries. There is a nickel cadmium battery disposal area at the Los Alamos Ecostation. Alkaline batteries can be disposed of in the green garbage can as normal garbage.

Toys require some guidance on the Harassment Code/other guidance:

  1. Is it acceptable to scatter toys randomly in yards and driveways or on walkways to homes and sidewalks in the county?
  2. What is the definition of a toy (e.g., tricycles, bicycles, go-karts, two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), scooters, small motorcycles/mini-bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, plastic parts?) – school toys, plastic and metal / tonka- push-type toys, remote control (RC) cars, electronic toys, dart boards, various types of balls, pogo sticks, dolls, stuffed animals, small paddling pools, large plastic doll houses, etc.) ?
  3. Some owners also have trampolines in the garden. During a recent storm, an unanchored trampoline blew up on San Ildefonso;
  4. If toys are left in the yard and a neighborhood child decides to play with the toy, the toy owner may be liable if the child is injured. The law makes exceptions for children entering residential property—particularly if the property appears attractive to the child or a fun place to play;
  5. There is also the possibility of an increase in home insurance rates if a child or person is injured;
  6. A pet can get tangled or caught in some toy;
  7. Children can drown in a 5-gallon bucket of water; and
  8. Children can choke when playing with a plastic dry cleaning bag. (Note: I know of two children who died this way and the effect on the father was devastating.)

I don’t think the toy issue needs to be criminalized, but it does require some attention. Perhaps a courtesy note is required and nothing more.

Recommendation: I think it is appropriate for children to collect their toys when they are done playing or using them. It would help if the toy is kept near a house (e.g. near the porch of a house, near a house wall, etc.). Call it a toy parking lot if you like.

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