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The Serious Side of Amusement Rides: 10 Tips to Stay Safe

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A 3-year-old boy died of massive head injuries on April 2, 2011, after falling off a children’s roller coaster in Illinois. The child was seated with his twin brother near the front of a roller coaster called Python Pit when he managed to get underneath the safety bar, slip out of the ride while it was in motion and fall a few feet between two cars.

What steps can be taken to prevent a terrible tragedy like this from occurring again? Here are 10 tips to making your day at the amusement park a bit safer.

1. Be Aware of the Safety Equipment Limitations.
Ride manufacturers provide seat belts, lap bars, and other safety equipment to reduce the risk of injury. However, as referenced above, many safety devices used on children’s amusement rides aren’t designed to keep young children in their seats. Thus, do not rely on lap bars and seat belts to restrain children. Solid metal lap bars only fit closely against the largest passenger in the car, often leaving young children with room to slide around. Shockingly, there are no mandatory federal standards for the design of amusement rides. Amusement rides are neither childproof nor child-safe. Watch other children on the amusement ride before you decide to let your child get on the ride to see how they react. After close observation, use common sense judgment to determine if the ride is safe for your kids. Do not rely on a ride attendant’s soothing words that it is safe for your toddler to ride alone. Judge for yourself. If you have any doubt, skip the ride.

2. Discuss the ride with your child before boarding.

Read the warning signs, if any, out loud to your child and discuss each warning. Advise your child that while the ride may stop, do not attempt to get off the ride until the ride attendant says it is safe. Explain to your child that if the ride gets scary, do not attempt to get off the ride no matter what. Explain that amusement rides might seem scary, but they are safe as long as the riders stay seated, keep their hands and feet inside, and hold on tight with both hands. Some kids raised in the era of five-point car seat restraint systems may not realize that holding on is important.

3. Always obey minimum height, age, weight, and health restrictions.

If your child does not meet the necessary requirements, do not attempt to sneak them on the ride. The requirements are there for a reason – safety. Ride manufacturers’ restrictions are supposed to take into account the forces exerted by the ride and the intellectual maturity required to ride safely. A child who does not meet the ride requirements may not be physically or developmentally able to stay safely seated. Also keep in mind that ride manufacturers base their guidelines on developmental time lines and height/weight ratios of children in the 50th percentile. Kids who are tall for their age may not be developmentally ready for a particular ride. Kids who are more impulsive than average need closer parental supervision. The bottom line is if you cannot count on your child to stay seated with hands and feet inside, don’t let your child on the ride.

4.  Don’t put children on rides that could scare them.

Most children who get scared try to flee. I read somewhere that when asked what they should do if they get scared while a ride is moving, a class of 20 preschoolers answered “get off the ride.” Children are hurt every year doing exactly that.

5.  Follow any special instructions about seating order or loading.

Spinning rides sometimes require that smaller riders sit on the inside (closest to the center pole) to avoid being squished by bigger riders as the centrifugal force increases. Thus, the amusement ride attendant should position small children away from open sides for safety reasons. If you decide to ignore explicit instructions or reposition riders after the operator has seated your party, you may be endangering your children.

6. Never seat your child in your lap on rides with restraints or rides that twist.
If your child is on your lap and the safety bar is above the child’s lap, that position could cause the bar or belt to put too much pressure on your child’s small body. If the ride doesn’t have restraints and the ride takes an unexpected twist or turn, your child could slip out of your hands and out of the ride.

7. Stay cool, and don’t get burned.

I read somewhere that more visitors to amusement parks suffer from sunburn, rashes, heat exhaustion and heatstroke than all other injuries put together. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water all day. Remember that alcohol dehydrates. Put on a waterproof sunblock before you enter the park, and remember to reapply it throughout the day. Wear comfortable shoes and a hat.

8. Teach your kids what to do if they get separated from you.

Have each child wear a physical ID at all times (such as an ID bracelet, Velcro shoe tag or personalized dog tag) that includes your cell number on it so that a security officer or park employee can call with the location of your child. Play the “What if …” game with your children so they know to stop a security guard or park employee if they get separated. Carry a photo ID of each child in your wallet. In case of separation, you will have a photo and description to help others looking for the child. Teach your child to drop to the ground and scream loudly, “He is not my daddy/mommy. HELP!” if someone tries to take them. If you can afford it, consider a child locator or tracking device. These devices are getting cheaper every year and you can find them on the Internet by searching “child locator GPS.”

9. Know your limits.

If you get car sick when sitting in the back seat of a car, do not sit in the back seat of a ride. Sit in the front or wait until you can sit in the front. If you have eaten a large meal or consumed alcohol, you should consider waiting an hour before riding a ride with lots of twists and turns. Otherwise, you may not only feel sick, but also have an unpleasant experience. Most people do better at amusement parks eating and drinking small amounts (plus lots of water) throughout the day.

10. Tune in to your kids

Do not leave your kids to fend for themselves while you keep riding your favorite rides. If your kids are old enough to go on their own, stay in contact via cell phones or by meeting at designated places to see how they are doing. Everyone can get fatigued, sick from eating too much, or dehydrated. Pace yourself. And have fun!