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Will Your Child Be the Next Roller Coaster Fatality?

Roller Coaster

With summer in full swing and amusement parks filled with children looking forward to a day of thrill rides to send their hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing via the biggest, fastest, highest, most terrifying roller coaster designed, you may want to consider just how safe riding a roller coaster is for your child in comparison to other activities—the truth about some urban amusement park myths may surprise you.

Urban Myth #1: Roller Coasters are Killer Coasters

One of the urban legend myths of roller coaster safety at fixed ride amusement parks is that when measured in “fatalities per 100 million passenger miles,” roller coasters have a higher fatality rate than planes, trains, and buses. Where this myth originated is unclear, but likely the result of someone reading rather carelessly a report or news blurb that asked the question “What is the most dangerous mode of transportation?” and then performed a mental extrapolation toward roller coasters that would have boggled their Jr. High math teacher.

The truth of the matter according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is that riding roller coasters or any other thrill type ride at an amusement park is far safer than riding planes, trains and buses.

In 2010, approximately 290 million guests visited U.S. amusement parks and safely enjoyed 1.7 billion rides with an estimated 1,207 ride-related injuries occurring. Of the 1,207 ride-related injuries, only approximately 5% (59) were reported as serious enough to merit an overnight stay at a hospital. Of the 1,207 injuries, 35.9% (434) were from riding a roller coaster. The bottom number is that in 2010, the injury rate for family and adult rides was 0.6 per million patron rides. For roller coasters it is only slightly higher at 1.0 per million patron rides.

The number of deaths tabulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that over the past 25 years the average number of deaths due to amusement park rides is approximately 2 per year. In marked contrast, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that the number of deaths on America's roadways was 33,808 in 2009.

When the statistics are calculated as “likelihoods,” more sedate activities prove to be much more dangerous than thrill rides at amusement parks. At an amusement park, the likelihood of being injured seriously enough to require overnight hospitalization for treatment is approximately 1 in 9 million. The chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 750 million.

In comparison, likelihood statistics show that other popular activities are considerably riskier than amusement park rides:

• Roller skating (912 emergency room treated injuries per million participant days)
• Basketball (799 per million),
• Football (704 per million)
• Soccer (405 per million)
• Fishing (85 injuries per million participant days)
• Golf (53 per million)

The likelihood of being injured from an amusement park ride is more closely aligned with activities such as:

• Exercising with equipment (nine injuries per million participant days)
• Playing billiards (eight per million)
• Camping (five per million)

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Urban Myth #2: Roller Coasters Cause Blackouts

Another urban legend myth of roller coaster safety is that the high level G-forces of some roller coaster rides can cause a rider to blackout and that there are many instances of brain injury stemming from the high level G-forces of a roller coaster hitting 6 G’s.

Again, this is just a myth. A G-force refers to the force of gravity where one G is equal to the normal pull of earth’s gravity on the body. One point to understand is that the G-force experienced on a roller coaster or other thrill ride is usually only for a duration of fractions of a second. To reach a point of physiologically responding with a blackout and other health issue associated with G-force, it would require exposure to G-forces that are either greater in magnitude or of much longer duration than those achieved by thrill rides available today.

Studies have shown that in reality our bodies are put through far greater gravitational pulls during everyday activities than that of any amusement park ride—we just don’t realize it. For example, according to the IAAPA, the following list provides some typical G-force experiences:

• Sneeze 2.9 G’s
• Cough 3.5 G’s
• Crowd jostle 3.6 G’s
• Slap on back 4.1 G’s
• Hop off step 8.1 G’s
• Plop down in chair 10.1 G’s

Government statistics have demonstrated that amusement rides are among one of the safest forms of recreation available to the public and that as long as amusement park patrons abide by the amusement ride safety tips listed below, that your child will enjoy a safe and thrilling summer.

Amusement Ride Safety Tips

• Obey listed age, height, weight, and health restrictions.
• Observe all posted ride safety rules.
• Keep hands, arms, legs and feet inside the ride at all times.
• Remain seated in the ride until it comes to a complete stop and you are instructed to exit.
• Follow all verbal instructions given by ride operators or provided by recorded announcements.
• Always use safety equipment provided and never attempt to wriggle free of or loosen restraints or other safety devices.
• Parents with young children should make sure that their children can understand safe and appropriate ride behavior.
• Never force anyone, especially children, to ride attractions they don’t want to ride.
• If you see any unsafe behavior or condition on a ride, report it to a supervisor or manager immediately.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile


International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions

National Safety Council FAQ’s