Roller Coaster Risks Lie in Riders, not Ride

Rider Beware: Roller Coasters Safe for Most, Risky for Some

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 26, 2003 -- If the drops, dips, and winding turns of a roller coaster make your head spin, chances are you probably shouldn't ride one. A new report shows roller coasters are safe for the vast majority of riders, but certain people face a higher risk of potentially deadly roller coaster injuries.

"In a nutshell, our report finds that there is a health risk to some people, but those people are already warned against riding roller coasters," says Gregory O'Shanick, national medical director of the Brain Injury Association of America, in a news release.

Those groups at increased risk of brain injury due to roller coasters include pregnant women or people with heart conditions, epilepsy, back or neck injury, or prior orthopedic surgery.

O'Shanick chaired a panel at the request of the U.S. Congress that completed the most comprehensive non-industry sponsored review of the overall safety of roller coasters. The panel released their report this week, which was partially funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The report looked at evidence that covered more than 38 years of roller coaster use, during which 57 injuries were reported including six deaths that were linked to the thrill rides.

They found that in the six fatal injury cases, each of the riders suffered undiagnosed brain and circulation problems, such as blood vessel abnormalities, malformations, or aneurysms, and fall into the risk groups already recommended against riding roller coasters. However, these risks were unknown to these riders, and it would have been unlikely for their doctor or the amusement park operator to know that these persons were at risk before they stepped on the ride.

In addition, the study found the rapid accelerations experienced by roller coaster riders are far below injury thresholds for healthy individuals, and the amusement industry's own self-monitoring standards would unlikely be matched by any monitoring by federal agencies.

The researchers say their findings suggest the evidence to dates shows that the risk of brain injury from a roller coaster is not in the rides, but the riders.

"Our findings also lead us to the realization that there are many more important issues such as motor vehicle safety, falls, violence and recreation-related brain injury that have not received the kind of media attention that roller coasters have, yet are much more prevalent," says O'Shanick.

In conclusion, the panel recommends that riders use common sense before getting on a roller coaster and know the limits of their own health.

SOURCE: "Blue Ribbon Panel Review of the Correlation Between Brain Injury and Roller Coaster Rides," Feb. 25, 2003, Brain Injury Association of America. News release, Brain Injury Association of America.