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

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.

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