Recently, a roller coaster in a North Carolina theme park drew attention when a parent noticed a large crack in one of its support beams. This is not the first time that a roller coaster or other amusement park ride has been revealed to be dangerous, so many parents (and people in general) are asking: just exactly how safe are theme park rides?
Despite the occasional media frenzy over a theme park ride accident, they are actually quite safe. Let’s take a look at why.
How Likely Are Accidents on Amusement Park Rides?
Let’s start with some statistics. In 2021, there were around 130 major injuries that could be attributed to theme park rides. This number includes both injuries requiring a hospital stay and fatalities.
That may sound like a lot (and, of course, any injuries or deaths are too many), but one must compare it with the statistics from other, more common causes of death. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,915 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2021, with 658 killed in boating accidents according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the odds of getting hurt on a ride in an established theme park (in other words, not one of those rides that moves from one location to another every few weeks) is just 1 in 15.5 million rides.
The reason that theme park accidents draw so much media attention is exactly because they are so rare. If they happened often, it would not be so surprising to hear about. However, sometimes media coverage can make it feel like this type of thing happens all the time, which instills an unnecessary fear in many people who would otherwise enjoy visiting an amusement park.
How Are Rides Safety Tested?
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) holds each ride to very high standards. For instance, there are “very detailed G-force levels that have to be achieved in order for a ride to be considered safe,” says Jim Seay, president/owner of Premier Rides.
He goes on to say that “every millimeter of the attraction” is tested in a virtual environment before the ride is even built. Once it is built, there are numerous in-depth tests involving crash test dummies equipped with sensors that test various aspects of the ride’s effect on humans.
A team is then specially trained in how to operate the ride to the extent that they know the attraction inside and out. Then, after their knowledge has been put to the test, there is a “soft opening,” where a small group of people takes a ride on the attraction, which usually results in a bit more fine-tuning before, finally, it is open to everyone.
Once the ride is open for business, it undergoes safety checks and inspections weekly, monthly, and randomly by the ride manufacturer, the theme park, and independent third parties and state regulators. These checks monitor many things, especially wear and tear of the mechanisms of the ride.
If the ride shows any sign of problems or if it just needs a bit of sprucing up, it will be temporarily closed.
How You Can Help Prevent Accidents
While you may think that the bulk of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the ride’s operators, there are actually things you yourself can do to reduce your risk of being in an accident.
First, check the signs near the ride to make sure that you don’t have any medical conditions that are contraindicated for riding it. Don’t take the risk just for a thrill.
Also, listen to the ride operator when they give you safety instructions. Keep your hands and feet inside the car, for example, and don’t try to use your cell phone to take a video when it’s in motion.
Lastly, make sure that you fit into the seat correctly. If you are too large or too small to make the safety belt of bar fit properly, it is not a good idea to ride that particular ride.
If you can do all of these things, the already-safe theme park rides will be much safer.