Attention Matters and So Do the Rules
Your safety depends on your own behavior
The safety rules matter. Don't ever forget that. The amusement ride industry likes to tell people that amusement rides are safer than pillow fights or watching TV, but they only mean that in a narrow statistical context. That doesn't mean it's safe to throw something at your friend's head on a thrill ride, like you would in a pillow fight, or splay yourself out across the seat of a roller coaster like it's the family room couch.
Patrons who move around during the ride cycle, don't pay attention to what they're doing, or deliberately break the safety rules are the number one safety concern voiced by ride owners and operators. Amusement rides may be fun fantasy entertainment, but they're also powerful machines and there's not a whole lot of room for error. If you stand up or loosen your restraint or push your little sister off her seat, a serious accident can result.
Parents are an important part of the ride's restraint system for young children
As a parent, it's your job -- not the ride operator's -- to ensure that your children stay properly positioned from the time they climb into the ride until the vehicle comes to its final stop at the unload point. Amusement rides are not required to provide child-safe restraints and many industry-standard restraints are actually less effective for small children than for adults. Parents are an important line of defense in avoiding accidents.
- If your children are riding without an adult, make sure they are physically and emotionally capable of keeping their bodies properly positioned throughout the entire ride cycle.
- If you are riding with young children, be prepared to physically restrain smaller children who might slip underneath a loose-fitting lap bar or belt. Watch to make sure their hands and feet stay inside the vehicle at all times. Don't ever rearrange the seating plan during the ride cycle. Butt in the seat means butt in the seat, no matter who's whining, or who's touching who, or what name Billy calls Susie. "Butt in the seat" is the rule.
Read the ride rules and restrictions, and follow them all
Never lie or argue about height/age/weight/health restrictions in order to get yourself or someone you love onto an amusement ride. If a piece of high-speed (or low-speed) heavy machinery wasn't designed or tested to be safe for 29-inch-tall toddlers or 350-pound adults, then why on earth would you want to trick or bully a ride operator into playing guinea pig with your own 29-inch-tall child or your own 350-pound self?
If you put your kindergartener in platform shoes to sneak her on a ride she's too short for, you're risking her life. If you have high blood pressure and you ignore the sign that says "don't ride if you have high blood pressure", you're risking your own life. No kidding. If something goes wrong, you will regret that impulse as long as you live.
Use all the safety equipment provided
If a ride has a restraint system, latch it. If the ride has more than one restraint system, latch all of them. Keep them latched until the operator tells you to get off the ride. The extra step might seem like a bore, but if the primary restraint happens to fail while you're riding, you'll learn to appreciate redundant system design.
Keep your body -- and your child's body -- properly positioned during the entire ride cycle
On rides with seats, this means "butt in the seat", feet on the floor and hands inside the vehicle. On rides where you stand up or lie prone, it means staying in whatever position the ride operator puts you in. This is VERY important. The industry design standard for U.S. rides requires that engineers prevent hazards from reaching patrons who are properly positioned. If you break the "properly positioned" rule, then all bets are off. The engineer's strategies are no longer protecting you. This rule applies to every person who boards the ride, including you and your kids.
What about riding with hands in the air?
One of the most common -- and most commonly broken -- safety rules on amusement rides is: "keep arms and hands inside the ride at all times". It's hard to find a photo of a roller coaster that doesn't show at least one person doing the Roller Coaster Wave. While few riders are seriously hurt this way, there are exceptions:
- Riders are more likely to knock into each other if one or both have their hands in the air. This can result in bumps and bruises or more serious injuries, such as fractured collar bones.
- Riders have been known to break fingers or hands when they hit a piece of the ride's structure. A rider's ring may catch on something stationary, which can result in degloving or traumatic amputation.
- In a few rare cases, overweight riders have been ejected from rides with a very steep drop and lap-only restraints. The restraints were in place tightly against the riders, but that wasn't enough to keep them safely inside. The ride manufacturer claimed that the hand-holds were intended as a supplementary restraint system, and that the ejections would not have occurred if the riders had been holding on.
You'll be more stable if you're holding on to brace yourself against the ride's forces. Two of the most common ride-related accidents reported by state safety agencies are 1) a rider's body hit something inside the carrier or 2) a rider experienced the onset of body pain due to the normal mostion of the ride. Roller coasters are, by far, the most common source of these reports. There isn't any way of knowing how many of those injuries were sustained while riding with hands in the air, but it's a safe bet that that some of them were.
Riding with hands in the air is riskier for children than teens or adults
Adults can decide for themselves whether the thrill boost from doing the wave is worth the extra risk of injury, but children should be taught to follow all the rules and hold on tight when they use amusement rides.
- Children's smaller bodies make them less stable in amusement rides, even if they're following all the rules. Kids are more likely to slide around, and less likely to be safely restrained by lap bars and belts. If you look at the photo to the right, you can see the difference holding on can make. The kids in the front are bracing to keep themselves properly positioned, while the kids in the back are sliding from side to side and into each other as the coaster turns. Catching an elbow in the face (or worse) can turn your family fun day into a trip to the emergency room.
- In some full-size rides, the smallest children allowed on board are so short that they cannot reach the bracing points on the floor that help riders keep themselves safely positioned. If a preschooler who can't reach the floor decides to try the wave, he's taking a far bigger risk than the adults or teenagers he's copying.
- Children are great at imitating behavior, but they lack the experience and knowledge we have that tells us when it's okay to do the wave and when it's not. We know that doing the wave on a coaster straightaway is quite different than doing the wave during the sharp turns of a Crazy Mouse or a Sizzler. Kids may not know the difference and can wind up in trouble if they're waving one way when the ride unexpectedly moves the other way.
Teach your children to hold on with both hands when they ride and model that behavior yourself. They'll be safer riding that way and it also sends the important message that all safety rules are important and must be followed.