Having a child fall out of a roller coaster or flung out of the Tilt-A-Whirl ranks pretty high on the list of “parents’ worst nightmares.” So it’s a bit surprising that there’s not a huge body of a research on the risks of these rides. The first study to look at national rates of amusement park ride injuries to children just came out and reported that a total of 92,885 kids in the U.S. under the age of 18 wound up at the emergency room between 1990 to 2010 after an unfortunate encounter with a ferris wheel, merry-go-round or other ride. That’s around 4,400 kids, on average, each year.
In the context of total amusement park attendance, that’s not such a high number of injuries. An estimated 300 million people visit amusement parks each year in the U.S., according to a report published by CQPress. With that context, the rate of injuries children suffer at amusement parks seems much less alarming. The authors write:
In the case of amusement park rides, according to a study by the National Safety Council, nearly 280 million visitors rode 1.7 billion rides in 2009 and reported 1,181 injuries—or less than one injury for every million rides. The vast majority of these injuries are not considered to be serious; in fact, only about 6 percent of them required an overnight stay in a hospital.
Similarly, a 2005 report issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did not find any statistically significant trends for mobile amusement park rides between 1994 to 2004. (This excludes rides at permanent amusement parks, however.)
But if that’s your kid in the hospital, even a relatively low rate of injury probably seems too high. Kids most often suffered injuries to their head or neck, followed by the arms. Soft tissue injuries were most common, followed by strains or sprains. (Only 10 percent of the incidences involved broken bones.) Children usually received these injuries by falling or else by banging into something or being hit by something while on a ride. Most of the injuries took place at permanent parks (as opposed to traveling fairs or mall rides).
The majority of the injuries weren’t serious enough to warrant overnight hospitalization. But the mom or dad whose kid just came crying off a roller coaster probably isn’t going to be reassured by that statistic, either.
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