In my day (the late 80s), sledding was a manic, screeching parade of unsupervised kids hurling themselves down the steepest, most snow-covered hills on anything flat -- store bought sleds, sheet metal, whatever. And while I sometimes put my Old Fart hat on and lament how children are too overprotected these days, I can't argue with the fact that maybe we kids were a little... reckless... when it came to sledding safety.

And kids are apparently still sledding dangerously. According to the most recent Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)statistics, there were 74,000 sledding, snow tubing, and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics in 2004.

Maybe slamming into a tree at 20 miles per hour isn't "just part of growing up" after all. But fear not -- sledding can still be a joyous childhood activity (as well as great exercise) if some simple precautions are taken.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and emergency room doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center:

Make sure your child wears a helmet

Recent reports show that sleds can easily reach speeds of 20-25 mph. About 15 percent of sledding injuries treated in emergency rooms are head injuries, and 43 percent of these are brain injuries.

Helmets are 85 percent effective in preventing brain injuries in children who ride bicycles; experts predict similar success rates in sleds. Hoods and hats are not as effective as a helmet would be in reducing the impact of hitting a fixed object or if thrown from the sled.

Make sure there is constant adult supervision

According to an American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons study, 71 percent of unsupervised sledding outings ended in injuries. When adults were present to monitor the types of risks taken, however, the injury rate dropped to 29 percent.

Find a safe spot

Look for holes, roots, tree stumps and fences that may be covered in snow. Avoid areas with trees.

Avoid slopes that end in a street, parking lot or pond

Sleds and cars have a hard time stopping on slippery surfaces. Frozen ponds might appear solid, but might not be strong enough to hold a child's weight. Sledding hills should have a flat run off at the end.

Make sure your children wear sensible clothing

Bright colors are easier to spot. Dress them in layers for extra warmth, and don't allow them to stay outside if their clothing becomes wet. Make sure that they are dressed with proper attire including gloves or mittens and a thick jacket or coat.

Make sure your children sit face-forward

It's easier to steer the sled.

Be especially careful with inflatable snow tubes

They move quickly, cannot be steered and, if they hit a bump, can propel children into the air.

Allow only one child down the hill at a time

When children are finished, tell them to move out of the way quickly. Do not allow the next sledder to begin until the previous one is safely off the hill.

Don't allow a child to walk up the same hill that another child is sledding down

Make sure children move out of the way of other children who are coming down the designated sledding path.

Don't use sled substitutes

Cafeteria trays, cardboard boxes and detached automobile hoods may seem like great makeshift sleds, but they are difficult to steer and stop, increasing the risk of injury.

In fact, for the safest ride, use a sled with a steering mechanism.

Use common sense

If a sled won't stop or you think you will hit something, roll off. And never ride on a sled that is being pulled by a moving vehicle.