How safe are amusement rides?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to answer this without having complete accident information, and we are a long way from that.
For example, in Ontario in 2001, there were 51 amusement ride accidents reported to the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). It is virtually certain that there were more than 51 accidents. This is called “under-reporting”, or the discretionary non-reporting of reportable events. It is easy to understand why minor injuries are not reported: people do not want to interrupt their day at the fair or the park. I broke a toe on a waterslide, and even though safety is my career, I did not report my injury. I would not have known where to go to report it. If I had informed the ride operator and she gave me first aid and I felt able to carry on, I would not have checked whether she reported it to the authorities.
In the U.S., the number of amusement ride injuries are estimated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), using case reports from a sample of hospital emergency departments. The CPSC uses a formula to multiply the reports from those hospitals to represent the entire U.S. but it is only an estimate.
The amusement park industry estimated that there are 300 million amusement park visits in the U.S. annually (IAAPA). The carnival industry estimated that they also entertained 300 million fair-goers annually, and that half of them likely rode on one or more rides (OABA). The CPSC estimated that there were 6,704 injuries on fixed-site rides that required emergency department treatment, and 1,609 mobile ride injuries. Due to the estimation involved, CPSC acknowledges that the actual number of injuries could be quite a bit more or less. The “95% confidence interval” was said to be 43% on either side of the estimates; in other words, with an estimate of 8,313 total injuries is off by 3,575 injuries or less, either way, 19 times out of 20.
Voluntary reporting by participating IAAPA members captured 1,586 injury reports from 2002–2002, from which the association estimated that there were 2,500 injuries each year involving fixed site rides. The industry attributes the discrepancy between the CPSC figure and the IAAPA figure to the emergency room sample. If the participating hospitals were disproportionately near amusement parks, then the national injury figures would seem higher than they truly are. However, this figure is still 1,000 injuries per year below the lower end of the CPSC 95% confidence interval.
According to Theme Park Insider, “in the United States, no official source is collecting national incident-based theme park accident data. And in many states, including Florida, theme parks are not required to report accidents involving injury. To anyone.” This is currently a controversial matter for amusement ride safety consumer activities and industry representatives.
Only 24 states mandate public reporting of non-catastrophic injuries, such as broken bones and concussions, according to Saferparks.
Even if these questions were answered, the individual person has to answer for herself, how safe is “safe”? Do we expect no chance of injury? Is it acceptable if we get enough excitement for the risk we take? Is it acceptable if it is less risky than some other risk we are willing to accept? There is never a simple answer to a question that asks whether something is “safe enough”, and it is particularly hard when we have no uniform system for tallying how many accidents occur at present.
Amusement ride injuries have many causes. Ride safety will only be achieved if all the parties do their part.