Staying Safe at an Amusement Park
Thrill-seekers, don’t look for trouble! Follow these tips for steering clear of an amusement park accident
Love crazy roller coasters, giant swinging pendulums or rides that spin you around, plaster you to the wall and then drop the floor out from under you feet? Whether you're a thrill seeker or you get dizzy just accompanying your kids on the tea cups, here's the good news about amusement parks: You have a much greater chance of being struck by lightning (1 in 700,000) than being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride (1 in 24 million).
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Still, accidents do happen. In each year between 2003 and 2013, nearly 1,600 people were hurt on rides according to a survey by the National Safety Council. And because fewer than half of the 375 parks surveyed provided injury numbers, the real injury rate is probably higher according to Bill Avery, a safety expert in Florida who has investigated thousands of amusement park ride accidents.
What’s the danger in having a little fun?
Thanks to improved engineering standards and the computers that run the rides, mechanical or design failure is the least common cause of amusement park accidents, says Avery. Most result when the person operating a ride or a rider himself doesn’t honor height or weight requirements or follow rules for using restraints properly.
That means you can and should take responsibility for your well-being, and your kids’, by following some simple guidelines when getting your thrill on.
Watch and learn. Before you go on any ride, take a few minutes to observe it. Get a feel for what you’ll — or your child — will experience on the ride. You might even ask someone who’s just gotten off a ride what it was like.
Make sure the ride looks safe. It should appear to be carefully maintained. That means clean, with safety belts and harnesses that are in good shape and not frayed. Scan for obvious issues, like missing bolts or cracks. If you feel the ride looks tired and uncared for, skip it.
Size up the ride operator. He or she should be attentive and take time to check each rider’s restraint and enforce safety rules. If the ride operator seems careless, don’t get on board.
Follow size guidelines. The belts, straps and other restraints on amusement park rides are designed to protect people who range between certain heights and weights. They may not work as effectively for someone who’s outside the size requirements posted for the ride.
Children and short adults as well as plus-size riders are at a higher risk of ejection from a ride than others. This is especially true when the only restraint on a ride is a lap belt. Besides honoring height and weight rules, note if a ride includes over-the-shoulder restraints or others that are appropriate for the motion of that ride.
Honor seating arrangements. On rides with an open side for entry, it’s generally safer for a child to sit away from the opening. Spinning rides sometimes require little ones to sit close to the center pole so they don’t get squished by bigger riders as the centrifugal force increases. And of course a child should never sit on a parent’s lap on an amusement park ride.
Restrain yourself. A ride that speeds up or slows down suddenly can jerk you around, bringing on bruises and potentially hurting your neck or back. If a ride’s safety restraint is loose, your body may slide or shift around. Batter-proof your body by giving the safety harness or belt a good tug to make sure it’s snug. Do the same for your child.
Rides with individual restraints are generally safer than those with fixed-position lap bars or bars designed for multiple users, according to Saferparks.org.
Keep your head on straight. On intense rides, don’t be tempted to twist your neck to look around. Hold your gaze straight ahead — or if you’re scared to death, close your eyes! According to Saferparks.org, if you have your head turned when the ride accelerates, you're more likely to hurt your neck. A study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found that among all amusement park injuries, head and neck injuries were most common.
Keep your hands where they belong — inside the ride. Yes, this seems obvious. But according to the study published in Clinical Pediatrics, hitting a body part on a ride or being hit by something while riding caused 18 percent of amusement park injuries in kids.
Monitor your kid. Children often make unsafe moves on amusement park rides out of sheer excitement or fear (so never force a kid to get on a ride if he doesn’t want to). Be on the alert for dangerous maneuvers like shifting around in the seat to get a photo while the ride is in motion or trying to climb out before it stops completely. Some very slow rides don’t have restraints, so a little kid may not understand that he needs to stay sitting until the ride is over.
Trust your gut. “If it tells you that it doesn’t feel right — don’t stay on it,” Avery says.