Among the rides studied were roller coasters, bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, log flumes, mini-trains, and coin operated rides, but not inflatable bouncers, ball pits, slides or go-carts, among others.
Theme parks and other amusement parks with fixed-site rides accounted for 34% of the injuries; 29% occurred at carnivals, festivals and other temporary locations. A quarter of the cases didn’t have enough information to be accurately categorized.
But about 12% happened on rides in smaller locations, such as malls, restaurants and arcades.
This is one of the first studies “to identify the rides you encounter in arcades and shopping malls as being an important source of injury,” said Gary Smith, senior author of the paper and director of the Center of Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
His team analyzed all pediatric amusement-ride injury data collected from U.S. emergency departments by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS).
Overall, the percentage of amusement-ride injuries requiring hospitalization or observation is less than 2%, and “that’s absolutely good new news,” Smith said. “It tells us the number of serious injuries requiring hospitalization is low.”
Children injured on “mall rides” tended to be young, and were more likely to suffer head/neck or face injuries, concussions or cuts, compared to injuries from theme park or carnival rides; 73% of “mall ride” injuries occurred when a child fell in, on, off or against the ride.
These injuries suggest the rides “may not have had restraints to (secure) the child and they may have been located over hard, unpadded surfaces,” Smith said. The design of the study did not provide that level of detail, he says, “but it’s certainly something that warrants more study to find out ways we can prevent these injuries.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which operates the injury surveillance system, has safety enforcement jurisdiction over mobile-site rides like those at temporary carnivals, but fixed-site rides are regulated by state or local governments.
A bill first introduced in 2007 by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would give federal oversight to all rides, but it has not been passed.
Colleen Mangone, spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, an industry group, said it is reviewing the report. But “safety is the amusement park industry’s No. 1 priority,” she added. “Injuries are rare, especially in the context of the tremendous number of rides given each year.”
Mangone cited industry statistics that 300 million people visit the USA’s approximately 400 fixed-site amusement parks and theme parks a year, with 3 million injuries reported in 2011. “The likelihood of being seriously injured (defined as requiring overnight hospitalization) on a permanently located amusement park ride in the U.S. is 1 in 24 million,” she said.
Among other study findings:
• 70% of injuries occurred from May to September, with an average of 20 injuries a day during these months.
• The injury rate declined from 8.79 per 100,000 in 1991 to 4.41 per 100,000 in 2003.
• More girls were injured than boys (56% vs. 45%)
• Body areas most frequently injured were the head and neck (28%); arms (24%); face (18%); legs (17%)
Parents and caregivers should yield caution when allowing children to ride “mall rides”.