It’s not hard to figure out what lawn dart are from the name alone. It must be some sort of game you play outdoors (on a lawn) with objects that resemble darts. When you play darts, you are trying to hit a target. So, this game must involve using darts to hit a target on the lawn.
Hence, the name ’lawn darts.’ Simple enough, right? Sound like fun? Want to play? Well—you can’t. While the game is legal in other countries, it is not legal to buy or sell them in North America and hasn’t been since the 1980’s. It’s even illegal to buy them online or via mail order and have them shipped into the country.
Why the hate for what sounds like a simple game?
How To Play
The game was intended to be played by two players or by teams of two. A lawn dart set came with four darts that were about a foot long and had weighted metal or plastic tips on the end. That way when they were tossed into the air, they would land by the tips and stick into the ground.
A kit would also come with two targets—small hoops. Those targets would be placed about 35 feet apart (or a distance more conducive to the players’ capabilities). While standing next to one hoop, players would toss the darts underhanded into the air and attempt to land them as close to the other target as possible.
Each dart inside the target would score a point. But if each player got a dart in the target, they would cancel each other out. Some versions included a smaller ring used as a ’bullseye’ and worth additional points.
In the Handly Cup Style version of lawn darts, darts inside the target were worth three while darts closest to the target were worth one. Only the player with a dart inside the target or closest to it could score points. Darts had to stick in the ground for points to count.
Lawn darts were actually quite popular in the 1980s even though they had already been previously banned inside the United States because of injuries suffered by people playing the game. But after a court challenged the ban in the late 1970s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission decided to relax the ban.
Manufacturers could make and sell them, but they could not be labeled or marketed as toys. But then tragedy struck, and the ban ended up being reinstated and enforced.
Back in April 1987, a father (David Snow) went shopping for outdoor party games. He didn’t go shopping for lawn darts, or Jarts as they were often called then. Initially, he just wanted to find a volleyball net, but he ended up finding a combo pack with several outdoor games. He bought the pack, set up the volleyball net, and put everything else in the garage.
On a different day, his nine-year old son and his friends found the darts and took them into the backyard to play. One of the kids threw the dart so high in the air that its trajectory on the way down took it over the fence and into the front yard where Snow’s daughter was playing with her dolls.
The dart struck her in the head and penetrated her skull. She was pronounced clinically dead three days later.
But the darts are not sharp so what happened? Well– they exerted 23,000 pounds of pressure per square inch upon impact.
Snow made it his mission to get lawn darts banned for good this time. “I want to get these damned darts,” he told The Los Angeles Times at the time. “These things killed my child. If I don’t do anything, it’s just a matter of time before someone else gets killed. I’m going to get them off the market. Whatever it takes.”
Upon their initial examination, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that only knew of about two dozen injuries caused by lawn darts. It wasn’t enough for an outright ban. But then Snow convinced them to look deeper:
- Over an eight-year span, lawn darts sent over 6100 people to the emergency room.
- 81 percent were 15-years old or younger; over half were under ten years old.
- Most injuries were to the head, face, eyes, and ears. Many led to permanent injuries and/or disabilities.
The Commission discovered that many retailers and manufacturers were not complying with regulations. Most manufacturers did not print the safety warning on the box. Over half of retailers had them displayed in the toy department.
The commission issued an order for a better safety warning to be printed on packages and scheduled a hearing to vote on a possible ban. The week of the vote, an 11-year old girl in Tennessee was in a coma from an injury caused by a lawn dart. The ban was approved, 2-1, and the commission issued a press release encouraging people who had previously purchased lawn darts to destroy them.
They were taken off the shelves by Christmas time in 1988. A year later, Canada passed a similar ban (MentalFloss).
Nowadays, there are safer lawn darts set available in the market. These lawn dart game sets are made of plastic with a rubber tip, eliminating the risk of accidental injuries from getting pierced by the pointed end. These can be easily bought from stores so that lawn darts can still be enjoyed by both kids and adults.