Into safe arms
“Oh, my gosh, she’s gonna fall”, says the person recording the video as the camera focuses on a teenager whose body is at the point of slipping out of the protective barrier of a gondola ride and plunging into a 25-foot fall. More and more people start to realize that, above their heads, a potentially tragic accident is unfolding. Cries for the ride to be stopped are mixed with shouts encouraging the girl to hold on. Finally, the gondolas come to a halt and the amusement park employees instruct visitors to leave the area just below the distressed teenager. A small crowd of safety personnel gathers to catch the girl when the inevitable fall happens. After a nerve-racking couple of seconds, the unlucky teenager plummets to the ground, hitting a tree branch on her way down, but ending up caught by the arms of the people gathered below. The crowds give a collective sigh of relief and start cheering. This time a tragedy was avoided – the girl was taken to the hospital to be treated for some injuries but appeared to have sustained no major damage to her health.
Who’s at fault?
The tense situation, capable of making a parent think twice before letting their kid go to an amusement park, took place at the Six Flags Park’s Sky Ride attraction in New York. One day after the incident, the sheriff’s office said that the ride was investigated and that its safety equipment was found to be fully operational. Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steven Stockdale commented that the incident was caused by a “human error” on the part of the teenager. According to two safety consultants interviewed by “CBS This Morning”, gondola rides like Sky Ride are by and large safe, and when accidents happen, more often than not it is because of something the rider did.
This is the explanation the amusement park industry often gives when something goes awry. Ride-manufacturing companies, as well as operators of parks, maintain that up to 80% of mishaps are related to a rider displaying unnecessary or risky behavior.
Although accidents like the one mentioned at the outset get a lot of media coverage when they happen, in the long run, they are unlikely to dissuade most people from going to amusement parks. This summer, as in previous years, state fairs and festivals taking place across Tennessee and Kentucky will attract hundreds of families with children and teenagers eager to get their fair-share of thrill on one of many midway rides. The Tennessee State Fair, scheduled for September 8-17, will offer at least 31 attractions. Kentucky State Fair will be taking place in Louisville from the 17th to the 27th of August and will feature “Thrill Ville”, although the number or types of midway rides that will be available are not specified yet. In addition to these two, both states will host a number of smaller events and carnivals abundant in games, rides, and food. Even though they are bound to attract scores of young visitors, it is usually the parents who ask themselves: “How safe are all these rides exactly?”. In the remainder of this article, we will analyze the subject and offer some practical suggestions allowing kids and adults alike to enjoy the summer carnival season safely and responsibly.
How real is the danger?
Parents who are being nagged by their children for permission to go on that scary-looking midway ride might be reassured to know that accident rates and statistics of amusement park attractions overwhelmingly point to the conclusion that such rides are safe. For example, emergency-room data from across the country, analyzed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), show that people injured on an amusement ride require overnight hospitalization only in less than 1% of the cases. In addition, Outdoor Amusement Business Association maintains that, on the national level, the chances of sustaining such injuries are 1 to 9 million. To put that number in perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are 1 to a little over 1 million, according to the National Weather Service. In other words, the average American is more likely to be struck by lightning than injured in an amusement ride accident.
The final inspector is always the visitor
Nevertheless, it is good to remember that traveling carnivals are not subject to frequent and rigorous federal controls in the same way that big stationary amusement parks are. In fact, states differ with regard to the level of scrutiny midway rides are given. Some states require little to no inspection, others leave them to third-party organizations, usually insurance companies, while states like California, Washington, or New Jersey have state-controlled governing bodies in charge of controlling the safety of attractions at traveling carnivals. Both Kentucky and Tennessee fall into the middle category with amusement rides inspected by third-parties. This means that a qualified inspector hired by an insurance company is responsible for carrying out the safety audit on mobile rides. If passed, the attraction is certified as safe for use for one year. In this time, the ride will likely not be inspected again and for many, this is a considerable concern since throughout the year it will be dismantled and reassembled many times while its parts will be subjected to changing weather conditions that can potentially affect the state of the machinery. This is why some states fund trained inspectors who check traveling carnivals frequently. Of course, amusement ride accidents are bad for business so the industry itself has a strong motivation to assure that attractions are safe. When in doubt, patrons should look for a certification sticker to make sure that the ride has an up-to-date permit, as well as be observant of the general state of the attraction and opt out of the ride if its safety seems questionable.
Take care of your own safety
In any case, carnival-goers should realize that an amusement attraction accident, however unlikely, can happen and that anyone can fall victim to it. This should motivate patrons to take reasonable steps to ensure their personal safety. What kind of precautions are reasonable? Here is a non-exhaustive list of useful safety tips:
- Obey all restrictions and follow the rules – these are strictly connected to the design and endurance properties of a ride’s safety equipment and restraints; ignoring height or weight limits may result in a situation where the protective gear is not properly adjusted and create safety hazard
- Avoid loose clothing and tie your hair up in a bun – these precautionary steps will decrease the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening injuries should a piece of clothing or hair get tangled in a ride’s machinery
- Keep your arms and legs inside the ride – again, not following this safety warning featured in virtually all amusement parks, can result in serious injuries or even death
- Avoid restricted areas – many accidents happen because patrons enter areas that are off-limits when, for example, a valuable item drops into a closed off area and they try to recover it; in case this happens, a visitor needs to refrain from trying to circumvent any safety barriers but rather report the incident to the ride operator
- Never force children to try a ride they don’t want to – if a particular ride makes the child scared, their first instinct would be to get off the ride while it is moving and this is indeed how many accidents happen.