A Roller Coaster Ride into the ER

Amusement park ride injuries such as falls pose risks to children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) As the summer months approach, millions of children look forward to rides at amusement parks. Yet even well-regulated rides can pose risks to children, especially with accidental falls.

A recent study found that more than 4,000 injuries from rides each year result in visits to the ER.

The most common injuries came from falls, and younger children were more likely to get cut than older kids.

The vast majority of the injuries, however, did not require the child to be admitted to the hospital.

"Follow all amusement park ride directions."

The study, led by Meghan C. Thompson, BA, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at how commonly kids are injured in rides at amusement parks.

The researchers used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 1990 to 2010. This system includes data from nationally representative patients at about 100 hospital emergency departments in the US.

Over this time, 92,885 children, aged 17 or younger, were treated in the emergency department for injuries related to amusement rides.

The number of total injuries averages out to approximately 4,423 injuries each year, or 6.2 injuries for every 100,000 children. Only 1.5 percent of the injuries required being hospitalized, though.

The years have varied in their rates. In 1991, 8.8 injuries per 100,000 children was the highest rate, compared to the lowest in 2003 of 4.4 injuries per 100,000 children.

The average age of the children injured in amusement park rides was 8 years old, but children aged 5 and under were more than twice as likely to injure their faces or to get cuts than older children were. More than half of the falls also occurred with children 5 and under.

The older children (6 and up) were over three times more likely than the younger kids to get a sprain or strain. Slightly more females (55.5 percent) than males (44.5 percent) were injured.

Most of the injuries (70 percent) occurred from May to September, the same summer months as amusement parks' high seasons.

The most common part of the body that children injured was the head and neck area, where 28 percent of the children had injuries.

Next, 24 percent of the injuries occurred in the upper extremities (arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen) and 17 percent occurred in the lower extremities (legs, feet, hips).

The most common type of injury was soft tissue injury, which occurred in 29 percent of the cases.

In addition, 21 percent of the patients experienced strains and sprains, 20 percent had cuts, 10 percent had a broken bone and 7 percent had concussions or other head injuries that did not involve a cut or break.

The most common way that kids got hurt was by falling, whether it was into a ride, on a ride, off a ride or against the ride. Just under a third (32 percent) of the injuries occurred this way.

After falling, the second most common way kids got hurt was being hit by something on the ride, which happened in 18 percent of the cases. Only 3.5 percent of the cases were reported to involve a malfunction on the ride.

Typically, amusement park and carnival rides, as well as those at malls and shopping centers, are regulated by local and state authorities.

More of the injuries in this study were found to occur at the amusement parks rather than on traveling carnival rides or mall rides.

The authors suggested that more awareness related to ride restraints and the behavior of riders and operators might reduce the likelihood of falls.

"This study shows that injuries on amusement park rides can occur at all ages," said Chris Galloway, MD, a dailyRx expert who specializes in emergency medicine.

"It's important to adhere to any ride's safety restrictions, and to know your child's physical capability and limitations," Dr. Galloway said. "If your gut tells you it's unsafe, then follow your gut."

The study was published in the May issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the other declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 7, 2013
Last Updated:
October 16, 2013