Generally speaking, amusement rides are very safe. If the amusement industry organizations are consulted for statistics, a very rosy picture is presented.
The Missing Link
One major roadblock to understanding amusement ride safety is that there is no centralized collection and analysis of accidents data. There is no single oversight agency, and in many states, there is no oversight at all. Although the U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Safety Council (NSC), and other agencies make an attempt at collecting accident data, it is severely limited and unreliable.
Deception Knows No Bounds
The numbers tallied for amusement park ride accidents are for “fixed site” amusement rides and exclude, carnivals, water parks, zip lines, bungee jumps, go-karts, and other amusement rides and devices. Many amusement entities “game” whatever data collection system may be in place by not reporting, under reporting, mis-classifying accidents, and having victims self transport to medical facilities to avoid calling emergency services who would otherwise record the incident. Another tactic is to have the amusement facility transport the victim to a doctor or urgent care facility avoiding the emergency room, from which the CPSC and others collect data.
What Statistics Should We Believe?
The main industry promotion and lobbying organization is the IAAPA, (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), which states that for 25 years, the fatality rate at amusement facilities has remained at a rather constant two per year.
Although the safety record is good, the statistics are oddly compared to other activities and industries that have no meaningful relation to amusement rides. The fatality number of two per year for all amusement rides is compared to auto fatalities in 2009, of 33,808. But what does that tell us? On the surface it sounds like autos kill more people than amusement rides. But how many autos are there in relation to amusement rides? How many hours do people spend in autos versus amusement rides? Do the riders control the amusement ride, as they do autos? Remember, those are two separate statistics about two different subjects. In the end, the comparison of the two fatality rates is meaningless if you are trying to figure out how safe amusement rides are.
And how did the industry arrive at two fatalities a year for all amusement rides when Injury Prevention, an international peer-reviewed journal for health professionals reports an average of 3 patron fatalities per year, just on roller coasters alone for the period 1994 to 2004? Inflatable devices, moon walks, and bounce houses, account for at least one reported fatality per year, while zip lines and bungee jumps and inflatable devices add an estimated 3 to 4 deaths per year in the U.S. It would seem that amusement rides and devices actually have an annual fatality rate closer to 10 than 2.
Removing Your Rose-Colored Glasses
Accidents are a very consistent aspect of amusement rides and devices. In spite of a positive industry spin, the exploding growth of largely unregulated zip lines, bungees, and inflatables will cause the fatality rate in the industry to rise rapidly in the coming years. The statistics and all the discussion about relative safety are just small talk once someone’s life is taken or forever altered by an amusement ride injury.