Which amusement park rides are most dangerous?

A study of injuries among children reveals some surprising data. Hint: Take extra care around carousels.

By Bruce Kennedy May 29, 2013 8:47AM

Carousel at an amusement park (© Driendl Group/Photodisc/Getty Images)
License: RFWe're entering the heart of the season for America's multibillion-dollar amusement and theme park industry. And while some parents may be nervous as they watch their kids go on a hair-raising roller-coaster ride, they may actually have more to fear from plain-vanilla carousels when it comes to children getting injured.

A new study by researchers at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and published by Clinical Pediatrics looks at pediatric injuries from amusement park rides treated in emergency departments from 1990 to 2010 -- and it offers some unexpected data.

Nearly 21% of those injuries took place on merry-go-rounds or carousels, while just more than 10% came from roller coasters and nearly 4% were from bumper cars. The most common cause of injury was falling, especially among kids age 5 and younger.

"Many of the injuries of these rides are over hard floors," Tracy Mehan, the study's lead researcher, told CNN.com, "and children are falling on a hard floor and are ending up with head injuries."

While boys usually have a higher overall injury rate than girls, that statistic apparently doesn't hold true in amusement parks. The study says more girls (55%) get injured than boys (45%).

Fortunately, of the annual average of more than 4,400 injuries from amusement park rides in the U.S. -- or up to 20 a day treated in emergency rooms in summer -- fewer than 2% involved a child being hospitalized or held overnight for observation.

The nation's amusement park and arcades brought in close to $13.4 billion in revenue in 2009, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. And much of that industry is well protected against possible lawsuits regarding injuries.

The theme park industry in particular "operates on so many different levels. . . . It involves all kinds of business models combined," University of Florida law professor Lyrissa C. Barnett Lidsky told the Orlando Sentinel in 2009. "It's hard to imagine another business that has such a wide array of activities that create a potential for tort liability."

The newspaper's review of hundreds of those theme park lawsuits found that most settlements are secret and are reached out of court. It also notes that theme park companies often go after unsuccessful plaintiffs to obtain reimbursement for legal expenses.

The companies behind those amusements say such litigation comes with the territory. "Given the significant size and scope of our operations and the millions of guests that visit our property each year, it is not unexpected that claims will occasionally be filed against our company," Kim Prunty, spokeswoman for Walt Disney (DIS) Disney World, told the Sentinel.

Researchers say regulation of so-called fixed-site rides is currently the responsibility of local or state governments, while the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over the rides you see traveling from town to town at state fairs and carnivals. That situation has led to a fragmented oversight system.

"A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards," Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Polcy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told CNN.com.

More on moneyNOW

May 29, 2013 11:26AM
Not surprising at all.  On every other ride you are highly supervised by attendants and strapped into place.  On carousels, everyone just kind of does their own thing and kids can easily fall off if parents aren't watching.  
May 29, 2013 12:35PM
"A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards,"

Bull - just more government interference that will do nothing except raise taxes and costs to attend parks. God, protect us from the do gooders.
May 29, 2013 1:51PM
Be responsible for yourselves!  The government and businesses should not be responsible for every single human being and their behavior.  I am sick of hearing about lawsuits over stupid, frivolous stuff...act responsibly.  Got a kid a on a merry go round...pay attention, get off the cell phone and watch your kids!  AND it doesn't hurt to teach them manners too.
May 29, 2013 12:47PM
The only time an amusement park should be at fault is if they broke safety procedures or something of the sort.  This is a risk we take when going on these rides.  Funny, I always assume when I am on a ride that it is going to break.  It makes it hard to enjoy the ride sometimes!
May 29, 2013 12:53PM
WHY does the media have to put the fear spin on everything??  Think I will just stick to a good book rather than read anything the media puts out.
May 29, 2013 12:52PM
Jeez now they're going to ban amusment parks !!!
May 29, 2013 1:27PM
Every time I get on a carousel, I realize it may be my last! I usually scream in horror for the entire time the merry-go-round is in motion. Now, I can quote statistics to those snotty 8 year olds who just glare at me. I knew my fear was justified!!!
May 29, 2013 1:56PM
If you think they are unsafe don't ride them. There are strict regulations already and the ones in the USA are the safest in the world. You can't regulate stupidity or carelessness. Parents & people need to be responsible for their own children and own actions.
May 29, 2013 12:54PM
When I was a kid, there was a ride that was a big circle of track up in the air. The cart would go back and forth, then stop at the top while upside down. My dad held me in because I was sliding out of my seat. He saved my life.
May 29, 2013 12:58PM
The one with the fat nauseous guy who's directly above your gravity...thats the most dangerous one, 'specially if he had the nachos...
May 29, 2013 1:07PM
The traveling carnivals that go from town to town setting up in parking lots are the worst.  Nearly all the workers are ex convicts or getting paid under the table and the rides are rarely if ever properly maintenanced. 
May 29, 2013 1:04PM
Pray the Good Lord nobody gets killed.
May 29, 2013 1:58PM

Note the qualification "pediatric injuries."  How many rides have a 4-foot minimum height rule?  It may be that the lower rate of pediatric injuries on roller-coaster-type rides may be because the smaller kids simply aren't riding them.  Shouldn't we also compare adult injuries on each type of ride?


As an aside, how much of the adrenaline rush that energetic rides give us is actually fear-based?  If there were no perceived hazard, would we still line up to ride them?

May 29, 2013 2:08PM
I knew a young woman that shattered her forearm by not keeping it in on that pendulum type ship (boat) ride. oh well kinda dimb on her part. when I was around 5 yrs. old I was sure I was going to slip right out of one of those spinning around like a merry go round that's going really fast and also moves up and down around ten feet off the ground carnival ride. any ride that produces high centrifugal force should user restrictions
May 29, 2013 3:20PM
Another one where we need "...national standards".  In the name of safety, health, school achievement, etc., etc., etc., we always need more national standard.  First of all, why do we assume one size fits all - the notion that a diverse nation, with diverse cultural heritages, diverse life-styles and so forth all will be well served by a single standard is a common assumption that hasn't really been subjected to any kind of empirical test.  Second, how did the human race survive for 500,000 years - more or less - without the notion that we needed a social worker, nanny state to preserve us.  How did we get Jefferson, Lincoln, George Washington Carver and that other Washington with all that corporal punishment going on.  Imagine the trauma to their little self-images - they might have discovered immortality without the horrible conditions of individual freedom and responsibility.
May 29, 2013 2:50PM
Those rides are safer than the derelicts operating them. Good grief. Those carny's are one shady bunch!
May 29, 2013 3:10PM
You can ask for their inspection records when you enter/pay admission--I always do. If they hem and haw don't go on the rides.
May 29, 2013 4:33PM
Much of these injuries come from simply parents not watching their kids. The lawsuit part is no surprise since we live in a blame everyone else and sue happy culture. I do however take comfort knowing that these corporations go after un-successful litigants for legal fees and such.
May 29, 2013 4:20PM

Who cares about safety, what about those germs! Do you really think they sanatize those rides at all? Saw a guy puke in one ride and after a couple spins empty, the ride was ready to go! All aboard. My last time going to the fair!

May 29, 2013 2:57PM
google, John Flynn at Fiesta Shows.  a convicted felon with a lengthy drunk driving record who claims to be a war hero.  check out his name and Stolen Valor.  a skeezy convicted con man in charge of the public's safety.
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