August 10, 2005 — Last week, a seven-year-old boy was killed at Playland Amusement Park in Rye, N.Y., when he got stuck in a conveyor belt propelling a water ride called Ye Old Mill. Park officials say the boy was about six inches taller than the 42-inch height requirement for the ride—a six-minute trip though a darkened tunnel—meaning he did not have to be accompanied by an adult.
In June, a four-year-old boy died after collapsing on the Mission: SPACE ride in Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The cause of death is under investigation.
The thought of a child getting hurt or worse can be scary for parents who plan to take their kids to a local fair or amusement park for some summer fun. Yet despite the recent tragic deaths, the vast majority of amusement parks and rides are very safe. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), from 1987-1999 there was only an average of 4.5 estimated fatalities per year at amusement parks.
However, parents should watch for hazards. "By all means, read and obey the posted safety instructions carefully," says Alan Korn, the director of public policy and general counsel for Safe Kids Worldwide. "But realize that just because your child is tall enough, heavy enough, or old enough to go on a particular ride, doesn't necessarily mean you can throw caution to the wind."
Korn says even if your kids meets a ride's requirements, parents should ask themselves if the child is developmentally ready to go on it alone. He suggests that parents first watch the ride with their kids before allowing them to board, and if their kids show apprehension or appear nervous, skip it.
Once you do decide that your kids are developmentally and cognitively mature enough to go by themselves, Korn says parents should always consider getting on the ride with their child. Especially for rides that take the child out of the parent's line of sight.
"If you don't know some component of the ride because it goes into a tunnel or something, then you can't say to the operator, 'My son is scared, please stop the ride.' It'd be worth having the parent ride with the child then, or just skip it entirely," Korn says.
Some other tips from Safe Kids Worldwide:
SAFE KIDS Worldwide is a global network of organizations whose mission is to prevent accidental childhood injury, a leading killer of children 14 and under.