Amusement Park Rides: Cause For Concern

A day at the amusement park is super fun. Whether you’re headed to one of the giant parks or some place smaller, you can guarantee yourself some fun carousel rides, some midway food, some roller coaster thrills, and some flume ride action. You assume everything is safe and inspected. Right? 

By Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

Wrong. 

Last year seats detached from a pendulum-like ride called the Fireball at the Ohio State Fair. A Youtube video showed seats breaking off and “bodies flying through the air.” One person was killed and several injured. NBCNews says the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 30,900 emergency-room injuries were caused by amusement-park rides in 2016 alone, the last year we have data for. Since 2010, 22 people have died because of “thrill rides.” 

The Outdoor Amusement Business Association says the tragedy took place after “multiple independent inspections,” and that 60 percent of ride injuries “are caused by guests behaving inappropriately.”

Gary Smith, President of the Child Prevention Injury Alliance, told TIME Magazine that “Rides that have appropriate safety designs and are inspected regularly are safe to use,” but says, “Operators and riders need to follow safety guidelines as well.”

What are those safe guidelines? TIME says standards laid out by standards groups like ISO and ASTM International, which some states and countries use in part for their own laws and guidelines. In actually, “regulation and oversight” vary across state borders. Regulators from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) urge lawmakers to adopt international standards for safety, but it’s often too little, too late. Only after the tragedy, as lawmakers tried to pass tougher regulations in the Caleb Schwab case, do people sit up and pay attention. 

[Check out our Security Tips For The Amusement Park.]

According to Insurance Journal, seven states — Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have no laws whatsoever requiring inspections. Kansas (the state where Caleb was killed) and Tennessee have only “light regulation.” On the other side of the spectrum, patrons in New Jersey and Pennsylvania can rest assured that their states are the toughest, with, in PA’s case, a 1,000-plus-strong army of state inspectors. Other states fall somewhere in between. Safer Parks has a list you can consult to find your park here.

Questionable Operations

Then there’s the problem with ride operators. Because even the best regulations won’t stop you if your ride operator isn’t doing his or her job. In 2004, June Alexander took her son to a roadside amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains — probably unbeknownst to her, an unregulated one. He fell more than 60 feet from a swinging gondola ride when his harness failed to engage, and the ride operator was charged with reckless homicide, according to Insurance Journal. 

Moreover, the IAAPA states that, “In most states at 16, young adults are eligible to drive, lifeguard, and hunt – compelling evidence that 16 is an equally appropriate age to work as amusement ride staff.” I don’t know about you, but I know that I don’t want a bored, hot 16-year-old kid responsible for securing the harness that going to keep me from dying when I flip upside down.

The IAAPA goes on to say that, “By federally limiting amusement ride personnel to 18 and older, this equates such work with manufacturing explosives, coal mining, sawmilling, handling radioactive substances, and demolition operations. There is a big difference between staffing an amusement ride and those activities.” This is all work that could reasonably kill someone. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with recent amusement park deaths, so is working the front line of a roller coaster or securing the harness of someone on a ride. 

It’s On You, Too

Finally, there’s the personal factor. We can’t blame it all on regulations and ride operators, after all. It’s incumbent upon you to obey all posted rules and regulations for the ride. In 2003, the Brain Injury Association of America released a study on roller coaster injuries (via Novant Health). They found that “rides posed a health risk for some people, but that those people already had been warned against riding on roller coasters.” Those people included “pregnant women and people with heart problems, epilepsy, back or neck injuries, or prior orthopedic surgery.”

Novant also says that, “Reputable parks and carnivals will clearly post the age, height, weight, and health restrictions for each ride.” 

Kids also need to understand that they must obey posted rules. You must listen to all posted rules and regulations; heed to all instructions given by the operator; and avoid any unruly behavior or horseplay. Children must be within the correct height for the ride — no fudging — and ride with your child to ensure that they act properly.

You can stay safe on amusement park rides. Millions of people do every year. But try to only go to parks with good regulations and inspection schedules. While there’s nothing you can do about lax or underage operators, you can pick parks that require ride operators to be 18 — some do. You can obey all the posted rules. And finally, if something doesn’t feel right, speak up, very loudly. This is your life, after all. You want to make sure your safety harness is working properly. If it feels loose, tell someone. In the end, don’t let yourself become a statistic — just because you were scared to make a scene. 

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on Time.com.

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