Amusement Park Survival Guide

How to have amusement park fun and avoid injury.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 02, 2007
6 min read

Mishaps at amusement parks may put some nagging doubts into the minds of parents planning a day of family fun. Are those thrilling rides perhaps a little too thrilling?

If news reports of amusement park accidents cast a shadow over your summer plans, there are steps you can take to make sure those scary rides don't get too scary. WebMD spoke to experts for tips to help make your amusement park visit safe and fun.

Children under 13 account for half of all ride-related injuries reported to state agencies, according to Kathy Fackler, who is the president of Saferparks, a California-based nonprofit organization. A huge mistake parents can make is letting children go on rides that aren't appropriate for their size. "Never try to bully your child's way onto a ride that has a height limit that's too high for them," Fackler tells WebMD.

Ride structure -- from restraints to size -- vary wildly, and you should examine a ride yourself to determine how safe it is for your child. "Just because there is a sign that says that a kid can go on a ride doesn't mean that the ride is safe for them," Fackler says.

It may put your mind at ease to know that the risk of injury is fairly low. One in 124,000 amusement park rides in the U.S. results in an injury that requires medical attention, according to an article that was published in the January 2002 issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine. In addition, the risk of an injury that requires hospitalization is only one in 15 million rides.

Containment failures -- or when children get ejected from a ride -- are likely the most troubling accidents, because the potential consequences are huge. "In terms of the most common injuries, you will probably see more tripping and falling in and out of rides, and fingers getting pinched in restraints," says Fackler. "But containment failure is what may cost your child their life."

Her advice? Take a close look at the restraints, regardless of the size of the ride. Some have very well-designed restraints, while others have almost nothing at all. Make sure the restraints fit closely against your children, and always remind children to hold on, even on a ride with quality restraints. If a ride doesn't look like it has adequate restraints, skip it.

"Teach your kids about ride safety in the same patient, repetitive way that you teach traffic safety or water safety, but don't trust them to protect themselves when they are young," says Fackler. Instead, chaperone your kids to get to know how they cope with scarier rides, and handle safety measures.

You should also limit the number of thrill rides you or your kids go on, and take breaks between rides. Fackler says there is even research that shows that going on rides repetitively can put you at higher risk for injuries.

Bring comfortable clothing and shoes, says James Hubbard, MD, MPH, who is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Family Doctor: A Magazine That Makes Housecalls. Wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet during rides. "Remember that you are spending the day around industrial machinery," says Fackler. This means you should put your hair up, and avoid wearing anything dangly -- scarves, drawstrings, or long necklaces, for example. Dress in light-colored clothing to avoid overheating.

Be especially careful on water rides, which aren't regulated at the federal level. You need to teach children not to stop in the middle of a slide, for example, which may cause serious neck injuries, says Fackler. Your child should also be big enough to maintain all of the necessary positions recommended for a ride. As a general rule, be conservative when you are unsure if a ride is safe.

It's not uncommon for people, especially younger kids, to take a fall at an amusement park. Tell your kids not to run, and if you're armed with a first aid kit, you will be able to manage minor cuts and bruises. Pack any medications, or emergency supplies -- say, for a kid with an allergy or chronic ailment -- and carry the kit with you in the park.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and in between going on rides. "If the temperature is above 90 degrees and the humidity is above 35%, it is difficult for your body to get rid of heat," says Hubbard. This makes hydration especially important. "Children tend to sweat a little less than adults, and they produce more heat. Make sure your child is hydrated before they go out," says Hubbard. Have your children drink liquids all day long, but avoid caffeinated and high-calorie beverages, and opt for water or sports drinks instead.

Make sure you use mosquito repellent, especially in the evenings. Put it on your clothing for extra protection.

It's very important that you take precautions if you're going to visit an amusement park when it is very sunny or hot. Sunscreen is not recommended for children under 6 months, and neither is direct sunlight. Instead, Hubbard recommends that you keep young children and babies in the shade. Most sun damage occurs before the age of 18. Use sunscreen -- SP15 or greater -- and apply it about 30 minutes before going in direct sunlight, and then about every two hours after that. Sunscreen should be used even on cloudy days. "Keep clothing light, wear a cap, and don't forget the sunglasses," says Hubbard, who is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Make sure they are 99 to 100% broad spectrum protection against UVA/UVB light. Staying out in the sun for even 15 minutes can cause a burn." Try to schedule your time so that you are out of the sun between the hours of most intense sunlight -- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- when lines for rides tend to be longer anyway.

Don't eat a large meal before going on a ride, and tell your kids to keep their heads facing forward, which according to Hubbard, will help prevent injury and motion sickness.

The National Safe Kids Campaign suggests following these rules at amusement parks:

  • Read the rules carefully and follow height and age restrictions. Read the warning signs aloud so that children understand them.
  • Keep all body parts inside the rides at all times. Ignore images of happy riders waving their hands, which is frequently a violation of ride rules.
  • Hold onto handrails when provided. Always use the safety equipment that is provided by the park operators.
  • Talk to your child about what to do if he or she gets frightened while on the ride. Tell them not to try to get out. Explain to small children that amusement rides might seem scary, but they're not dangerous as long as riders hold on tight, stay seated, and keep their hands and feet inside.
  • Particular attention should be paid to rides as they come to a stop. Children who are in a rush to be the first one off, or in a hurry to get to the next ride, may try to exit while the ride is still moving.