If you are wondering if anyone has ever died on a theme park ride, it's rare, but it has happened.
As for recent deaths in the United States, in July 2017, one person died and six were injured when the Fire Ball ride malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair. This is the latest death associated with amusement park rides.
In August 2016, a 3-year-old boy died after falling out of the Rollo Coaster, an old-style wooden roller coaster built in 1938 at Idlewild and Soak Zone near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just a few days earlier, a 10-year-old boy suffered a fatal neck injury on the Verruckt, billed as the world’s tallest water slide, at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The Verruckt has since been closed permanently.
In 2015, a man trying to retrieve his cell phone in a restricted area was struck by the Raptor roller coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. The same year, a 10-year-old girl died after losing consciousness following a ride on the Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. The Los Angeles coroner later determined that the girl died from natural causes not related to the roller coaster.
In 2013, a woman visiting Six Flags Over Texas fell to her death from the Texas Giant, which is said to be the world’s steepest wooden roller coaster. On the same day, a boat on the Shoot the Rapids ride at Cedar Point flipped over, injuring six people; the ride is now closed.
Headlines like these make many people wonder about the safety of theme park thrill rides, including new roller coasters that seem to become taller, faster, and steeper with each passing year.
Amusement Ride Injury Statistics
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) points out that roller coaster deaths are extremely rare. Their 2017 Ride Safety Report surveyed U.S. and Canadian amusement facilities in fixed sites. The overall finding was 0.62 injuries per million rides in 2017. An estimated total of 1,035 injuries took place on rides that year, with about 10 percent of the injuries requiring immediate hospitalization for over 24 hours. Most injuries happened on family and adult rides, followed by roller coasters and children’s rides.
A 2013 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital researched injuries in children in relation to rides at fixed-site amusement parks, mobile rides at fairs and festivals, and rides found at local malls, arcades, stores, or restaurants.
Head and neck injuries were the most common (28 percent), followed by arms (24 percent), face (18 percent), and legs (17 percent). Soft-tissue injuries were also the most prevalent (29 percent), followed by strains and sprains (21 percent), cuts (20 percent), and broken bones (10 percent).
Theme Park Safety Regulations
While the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates portable rides like those you find at state and county fairs, there is no federal oversight of fixed rides at theme parks. While theme park rides are regularly checked by state and local inspectors, the industry is largely self-regulated.
All theme parks with permanent rides, however, must disclose ride-related injuries that require immediate hospital stays of at least 24 hours. Theme parks negotiated this self-reporting arrangement to avoid routine inspections. Worse yet, while there are industry standards, they’re not the law in every state.
The IAAPA states on their website, "Currently 44 of 50 states regulate amusement parks. The six without state oversight are Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. These states contain few, if any, amusement parks."
Some organizations have called for the creation of a national database or a national system to track and get a true picture of the dangers of roller coasters.
Risk Factors and Safety Measures
Most roller coasters and thrill rides feature warnings that pregnant women and people who have heart conditions or other health issues should not ride.
There are some excellent safety tips for those riding roller coasters or extreme theme park rides. Most of the suggestions are common sense and include reading and following the rules, keeping your eyes looking forward and your head up to avoid neck injury, and urging riders to talk to the ride operator if they have questions or see something amiss.