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Amusement Rides Knock Some Patrons for a Loop

Medically Reviewed by Tonja Wynn Hampton, MD on August 24, 2001
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 24, 2001 (Washington) -- Roller coasters and other amusement rides put more than 10,000 thrill-seekers on the fast track to the emergency room last year, according to a new report issued Thursday by The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Ann Brown, commission chairwoman, said the number of injuries at amusement parks actually fell in 2000, but the overall number of injuries has increased significantly over the last five years.

The new report found that based on admissions to hospital emergency rooms, children and teens were the most likely to be injured on rides. In all, 6,590 people were hurt on amusement park rides last year, down from 7,260 in 1999. And a total of 10,580 people were injured while visiting mobile carnival rides, 200 more than in 1999.

"Amusement park rides are fun, fast and thrilling. They are supposed to create the illusion of danger, without putting people at risk," Brown said. "But the increased number of deaths and injuries tell a different story."

Carnival rides -- the small operations like you find at the local mall -- fall under CPSC authority because they are considered interstate commerce, said commission spokesman Ken Giles in a recent interview with WebMD.

But the CPSC does not have jurisdiction over fixed-location theme parks, even though that is where most deaths and injuries happen. Each state sets its own regulations regarding its theme parks, but Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Utah do not have regulations or require inspections of rides.

Last year, Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) proposed legislation giving CPSC jurisdiction over the fixed rides -- yet as of the beginning of August, the bill is still pending before the consumer protection subcommittee, said Markey's spokesman, David Moulton.

Brown said she supports proposed legislation that would give her agency jurisdiction over amusement park rides, a program that would cost at least $5 million.

Two people died last year in incidents related to amusement rides, the safety commission said. That's down from the six people who died in such incidents in 1999.

But don't overlook those recent declines, say representatives from the amusement industry, who contend that incidents are declining because safety is at an all-time high.

"Amusement parks have a long history of providing safe, family entertainment," Bret Lovejoy, told the Associated Press Thursday. He is the president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "There is virtually no safer form of recreation, and the 2000 figures further confirm that."

Lovejoy said more than 315 million people visited U.S. amusement parks last year, accounting for 3.2 billion rides. According to the association, the likelihood of being seriously injured on a ride is about 1 in 22 million and the chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 1.5 billion.

Despite those odds, accidents do happen.

This month, 22 people were sent to hospitals, mostly with minor injuries, after two cars collided on the Superman Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags New England in Massachusetts.

In July, one roller coaster rear-ended another in a New Hampshire amusement park, causing five people minor injuries. Less than a week later, a sideways-spinning ride called the Chaos fell from its spindle at a Michigan amusement park, trapping some riders for hours and sending 31 people to hospitals. Most were released within a day.

Gary Slade, publisher and editor in chief of Amusement Today, a monthly trade newspaper for the amusement and water park industry, says the problem is overblown.

"I think it's been a relatively quiet, normal year for the industry," he told WebMD soon after the accidents happened earlier in August.

"When you look at the total number of rides across the nation, at the total number of parks, total number of visitors to these parks, it's mind-boggling how many people are riding rides and how safe they are," he said. "The numbers of people getting injured are far less than numbers getting killed on our nation's highways, train derailments, plane accidents, and boating accidents."