How Often Does Someone Die on a Theme Park Ride?

The reality of theme park safety

Raptor at Cedar Point
••• Cedar Point

Has anyone ever died on a theme park ride? It's rare, but it happens.

In July 2017, One person died and six were injured when the Fireball 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 at Idlewild theme park in Pennsylvania. Just a few days earlier, a 10-year-old boy was decapitated on the Verruckt, a water coaster 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. Also in 2015, 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 billed as 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.

Headlines like these (and well-executed hoaxes) make many people wonder about the safety of theme park thrill rides, including roller coasters that seem to become taller, faster, and steeper with each passing year.

Roller Coaster Death Statistics

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) points out that roller coaster deaths are extremely rare. About 335 million people of all ages safely complete about 1.7 billion theme park rides in the U.S. each year, including 83 million visitors to 1,000 water parks.

This means that the chance of being seriously injured on a ride at a fixed-site park in the U.S. is about 1 in 24 million.

In 2014, the last year for which the IAAPA has reported data, there were approximately 1,150 ride-related injuries on fixed rides. That number is down significantly from from 2,044 injuries in 2003. (The IAAPA does not distinguish between rides at water parks and traditional amusement parks.)

According to a 2013 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, head and neck injuries were the most common (28%), followed by arms (24%), face (18%) and legs (17%). Soft-tissue injuries were also the most common (29%), followed by strains and sprains (21%) cuts (20%) and broken bones (10%).

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 law in every state.

Organizations like the Center for Injury and Policy Research, which studies child injuries in the United States, has called for the creation of a national database or a national system put in place so we can track and get a true picture of the dangers of roller coasters. 

Roller Coaster Risk Factors

Most roller coasters and thrill rides feature warnings that pregnant women and people who have heart conditions or other health issues should not ride. Here's what to know about roller coasters and the risk of a stroke.