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 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.

Roller Coaster and Thrill Ride Death Statistics

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) points out that roller coaster deaths are extremely rare. Their 2016 Ride Incident Survey Report revealed that approximately 384 million guests safely enjoyed 1.7 billion rides at 400 U.S. amusement parks. The chance of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride at a U.S. amusement park, the organization states, is 1 in 17 million.

IAAPA data showed that "the estimated injury total was down 17 percent in 2016 compared to 2015 (1,253 vs. 1,508 injuries), while the injury rate per million patron-rides was unchanged at 0.8 injuries per million patron-rides. Compared to 2003, both the estimated number of injuries and the injury rate per million patron-rides in 2016 were down—by 36 percent and 20 percent, respectively." (The IAAPA includes their Canadian members' data and 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 percent), followed by arms (24 percent), face (18 percent) and legs (17 percent). Soft-tissue injuries were also the most common (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," 

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. 

Thrill Ride 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.

The Community Table website lists some excellent safety tips for those riding roller coasters or extreme theme park rides. Most of the tips 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.