Leaf piles: an unassuming safety threat

| November 11, 2013

There’s something about a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves that makes it irresistible for children, often causing them to dive right in. The same can be true for pets and even zealous adults. Unfortunately, what seems like a harmless seasonal tradition can result in serious injuries and, sometimes, fatalities.

Worst case scenario

It might sound like a suburban legend, but children being run over while hiding in leaf piles actually has true origins. Sadly, a leaf pile death occurred as recently as last month. On October 24, an 18-year-old Oregon woman intentionally ran over a pile of leaves with her car, only to find out she had hit and killed 6-year-old and 11-year-old stepsisters. The 6-year-old died at the scene, and her older stepsister died the next night at a hospital.

It may seem unlikely but this is not the first accident of its kind. In 2004, a Massachusetts father parked his truck on a pile of leaves, where he didn’t realize his 10-year-old daughter and her friend were hiding. His daughter later died at the hospital, and her friend sustained serious injuries. In both incidents, the children were temporarily unsupervised.

leaf piles

You can’t be sure what’s hiding in a large leaf pile like this one. From Collin Anderson.

Smaller dangers

There are more reasons to stay out of leaf piles than just rare-yet-deadly accidents. Ticks may be hiding in piles, which threatens the health of both children and dogs. I know how much dogs love frolicking in leaf piles, but staying away is best for their own safety. Mites, parasites, bacteria, and mold could also be lurking in the leaves. Even if dangerous organisms aren’t present, simply eating wet leaves could cause your dog to vomit.  Even more frightening are the snakes that may be hiding in leaf piles.

Cyclists & motorists

Leaf piles can be both an inconvenience and hazard to cyclists and drivers. Multiple leaf piles in the street might cause drivers to swerve and risk running into oncoming traffic or obstacles in the road.

When leaves accumulate on streets and become wet, they create a slippery surface similar to driving on ice. Dry leaves are also dangerous, as parking on them can be a fire hazard. Do not park on leaf piles. Think of leaves as a “no parking” sign.

If you cannot avoid driving or riding over leaves, slow down, especially if they’re wet or you’re turning. Be wary of potholes, speed bumps, debris that could harm tires, and uneven surfaces, as leaves make them less visible.

Many dogs love playing in leaf piles as much as children, but harmful pests may ruin their fall fun. From Patrick.

Take proper precautions

Know the proper method of disposing of leaves in your community. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to rake accumulated leaves into piles or bags near the curb for the local streets department or department of public works to pick up. Be mindful that your leaves aren’t imposing on bike lanes or sidewalks.

Do not let your child play in leaf piles or around piles near the road. Even if your child is not hiding inside a leaf pile, distracted drivers might not spot them in the road. If you absolutely refuse to deprive your child of the leaf pile fun you experienced growing up, make sure they’re constantly supervised while in piles or near the road.

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