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Amusement Rides Injure Thousands of Children Annually

May 15, 2013

As we get closer and closer to summer weather, parents and their children will flock to amusement parks, carnivals and boardwalks to eagerly ride the rides. While we sometimes hear anecdotally of amusement park accidents, they seem very rare. A new study published in this month’s Clinical Pediatrics, however, suggests that thousands of youngsters are injured annually while enjoying these attractions. The results came from a study conducted by researchers in Columbus, Ohio at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. They surveyed statistics from 1990 to 2010 and established that nearly 4500 children (under the age of 18) are injured in accidents like this every year. The total figure spanning the 20 year study is 92,885 injuries. The authors of the study claim that this is the first of its kind (analyzing injuries involving amusement park rides) in the United States.

Smithsonian magazine reports that the most common personal injuries are to the head and neck. Arm injuries rank second. Most were soft tissue injuries (like damage to ligaments, muscles, and tendons). About 10 percent of such incidents (about 450 per year) involved broken bones. About 6 percent necessitated overnight stays in the hospital.

The CNN blog, The Chart, quoted Tracy Mehan, the lead researcher, explaining that the rides in question “included anything from coin-operated rides to Ferris wheels, carousels, bumper cars, roller coasters, and any type of ride like that.” Mehan also said, “Many of the injuries of these rides are over hard floors, and children are falling on a hard floor and are ending up with head injuries.” CNN also reports that over 70 percent of these cases occurred during the summer months, with approximately 20 injuries happening daily from May to September.

While the researchers in this study stress the need for greater oversight of both permanent (like theme parks and amusement parks) and mobile (like carnivals and fairs) rides, a spokesperson from the Consumer Product Safety Commission complains that policies implemented in the early 1980s stripped them of the right to inspect permanent attractions. Rather than having major theme parks all inspected by professionals from the same organization, there is no central authority. The lead author of this study laments, “Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides, regulation of fixed-site rides is currently left to state or local governments, leading to a fragmented system […] A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards.”

The authors of the study stress the importance of following all the regulations listed in parks and around individual rides, like following height, age, weight, and health restrictions plus any special seating or loading instructions. They also ask parents to be on the lookout for rides with unpadded surfaces and to trust their instincts; if a ride looks unsafe, do not allow your child on it. Amusement parks in Pennsylvania have a reputation for vigorously defending all personal injury lawsuit brought against them and often take legal shelter behind signs with messages like, “The rides in this park have been inspected as required by the Pennsylvania Amusement Ride Inspection Act.” As indicated above, the thoroughness of these inspections is a point of contention for watchdog groups.

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