Recent deaths of young children at major amusement parks highlight need for parents to discuss ride safety with their kids.
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:
- Amusement parks have graduated activities, so plan your day ahead of time to make sure you're participating in rides meant for your child's age and developmental level.
- As a family, review the rules of the park before you enter. Remind kids that they should not make rides dangerous by standing, putting their arms or legs outside of the ride, or getting off before it stops completely.
- Don't save the most thrilling rides for end of the day—you and your kids might be tired, dehydrated, or possibly sunburned. Instruct your kids to always use the safety equipment provided by the park, such as seat belts, shoulder harnesses, chains, and lap belts.
- Police the park! If a ride doesn't look right, in terms of the maintenance or parts, or if you think the operator of it is being inattentive operator, pass on it and mention it to the park supervisors.
- Remind your children that rides sometimes can stop temporarily, but that riders must never get off until the operator tells them to.
- Point out the operator and the loading/unloading locations to children.
- For all children ages seven and under, give them an ID card. (You can use one from our Clip 'N' Save Important Numbers printable.) Put your child's name, address, and a cell phone number on it, then place it in your child's pocket and let her know it's there, and that she should give it to a park employee or an adult if she is in trouble.
- Tell your kids if they get lost, they should search for a park employee. It's a good idea to point out what these employees look like ahead of time.
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.