Are amusement park rides safe? The surprising answer

Updated
The Texas Giant roller coaster ride sits idle at the Six Flags Over Texas park Saturday, July 20, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. Investigators will try to...
The Texas Giant roller coaster ride sits idle at the Six Flags Over Texas park Saturday, July 20, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. Investigators will try to...
AP Photo/LM Otero

Thrills turned to tragedy Friday, when Rosy Ayala-Goana, 52, died while riding a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas, near Dallas. Now riders across the country are wondering how safe these theme park amusements really are.

The answer is: we don’t really know.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, recently conducted a large scale study of injuries to children on amusement park rides and found that approximately 4,400 get hurt a year. In peak season (May to September), “that’s one every two hours,” said Dr. Gary A. Smith, who conducted the study.

But according to NBC News, Smith’s study didn’t include death because that information isn’t logged in hospital injury reports–and there is no such study for adults. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) logged 52 total amusement ride deaths between 1990 and 2004, but more recent information is unavailable. The best that researchers can do is scour websites like RideAccidents.com, which compiles accident headlines from across the country.

Regulation for amusement park rides is notoriously fragmentary. There is no federal agency responsible for amusement park safety. In seventeen states–including Texas–there is not even a state agency responsible for overseeing park safety. For this reason, Six Flag Over Texas is going to investigate Rosy Ayala-Goana’s death themselves.

Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts has been talking about this issue for years. When he was a congressman, Markey introduced legislation to federally regulate amusement park rides in every congressional session since 1999. Nothing came of it.

“A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour,” Markey said in a statement Monday.

Based in Montecito, California, the Amusement Safety Organization recorded seven injuries on the Texas Giant (the ride that killed Ayala-Goana) last year. All seven were neck-related. The Texas Insurance Department is responsible for setting the state’s amusement park safety standards, based on those proposed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Each year an inspector hired by the park’s insurance company must certify that the ATSM standards are met.

Yet even though a ride is certified, the Texas Insurance Department notes on their website that they’re not liable if something does, in fact, go wrong: “Recognition by the Department that the amusement ride has satisfied these standards is not an endorsement by the Department or a statement regarding the safe operation of the amusement ride.”

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Are amusement park rides safe? The surprising answer

Updated