One-size-fits-all Ride Design

Riders of different sizes on Sizzler amusement ride

One-size-fits-all ride design

Amusement rides are designed to accomodate the maximum possible range of body sizes within one of the following markets:

  • Kiddie rides are smaller-scale machines intended for young children to use without requiring adults to ride along. Depending on the design, these rides may accommodate anyone from toddlers who've just started walking to pre-adolescents. Some kiddie rides can carry adults, albeit not very comfortably.
    • Quality and fit of restraint ranges widely.
    • Kiddie rides move at relatively slow speed, but they can still expose a poorly-restrained young child to significant machinery and fall hazards.
  • Family rides are full-sized amusement rides intended as a middle ground between kiddie rides and major thrill rides intended for older and bolder patrons. Small children are expected to ride with a responsible adult, so family rides have to accomodate a wide range of ages and body sizes, from toddlers to large adults.
    • Some family rides can generate significant accelerations. Restraints on those are more elaborate than those on kiddie rides, but lap bars are often sized for bigger riders, leaving smaller children poorly restrained.
    • Older rides that were designed decades ago for teens and adults may be rebranded as family rides with lower height limits to extend their useful life as they're crowded out of the adult ride market by newer high-tech thrills. Companies are not required to revise the containment/restraint system for the new smaller-sized customer base when they lower a ride's height limit; sometimes that can put children at increased risk of falls or ejection.
  • Adult rides are intended for older children and adults, although minimum height limits on some are low enough to allow kindergarteners on board. The size range of riders is smaller, due to higher minimum height requirements, but the extreme accelerations on these rides may require closer-fitting restraints.
    • Designing an affordable system that fits securely on riders from 50 or 60 pounds up to 300 pounds or more can be challenging, and riders at either end of the spectrum may not fit as well as the 170-pound median male in the center.

Safety issues

As the saying goes: one-size-fits-all generally doesn't. On kiddie and family rides, children at the lower end of the allowable height range account for almost all fall/ejection accidents reported to state safety agenices. Problems can arise at the upper end of the weight or height spectrum as well.

  • Small children are ejected more often than larger riders because the lap bars and other restraint systems often don't fit closely enough against their bodies to hold them in place.
    • Young children may slide down under the lap bar or pull their feet up onto the seat, putting them into a position where they are at risk of ejection.
    • A child who isn't securely restrained may become frightened at the feeling of instability, or confused as the ride comes to a temporary stop, and try to stand up or leave the ride.
    • Young children may be unable to reach the floor to brace with their feet on family rides, and this can cause them to slide into an unsafe position.
  • When an adult and a small child share a single adjustable-position lap bar, the bar will fit closely against adult and leave the child under-restrained. Some ride owners have solved the safety problem by adding a lap belt as a secondary restraint, or installing thick foam padding around the lap bar to improve the fit for the smallest rider. Parents should be aware that they are responsible for ensuring that their child stays safely inside the ride vehicle at all times. On some rides that may mean actively holding small children in place and watching that feet and hands don't slip outside the car.
  • When children ride together on spinning rides or rides with sharp turns, the lateral acceleration can cause the smaller child to be pressed into the larger riders. If this feels uncomfortable, or if the older child yells at the smaller child, the smaller child may react instinctively by standing up or moving away into an unsafe position.
  • Lap bars and lap belts don't protect overweight riders as well as riders of median weight.  Several highly-publicized ejections of overweight riders have occurred on extreme thrill rides. Seat belts tend to fasten over thighs instead of laps on heavier riders and lap bars lock in a more vertical position, making it possible for the rider's body to be propelled out from underneath the lap bar on rides with steep drops.   Obese riders should choose rides with restraints that fit securely and comfortably, and avoid rides with steep drops if they do not have over-the-shoulder restraints. 
  • Skinny riders may slide and bang around more within the confines of the containment system. They may not have as much neck strength as they need to hold their head upright under force, and they have less padding on their frame to cushion against impact.
  • Riders who are significantly larger or taller than average may have trouble fitting comfortably in rigid restraint systems. Bruising can occur. In rare cases, an aggressive ride in too-tight restraints can break a rib or injure internal organs.
  • Very tall people should be cautious about choosing amusement rides.  Many ride designers assume a patron range within the 5th to 95th percentile for height.  Before riding, ask whether the ride has been tested for patrons of your size.
  • On some rides, small riders are more likely to strike their chin or face when the vehicle changes direction. Notice the difference in posture between the boy in the red shirt and the adults riding near him. His shorter arms require him to lean forward to reach the bracing point and his head is closer to the bar because of his shorter stature. If the car takes a dip, the boy's head may continue moving in the same downward direction while the vehicle rises up to smack his chin or nose.

For safety's sake, make sure the ride fits the rider

Many ride-related accidents are caused by a poor fit between the patron and the ride. When choosing amusement ride experiences, make sure that everyone in your party feels comfortable about going on the ride and each rider is securely restrained.

  • Look for rides with individually-adjustable restraints for each rider. They tend to be safer than those with fixed-position lap bars or a single bar used for multiple riders.
  • Minimum height limits are not a reliable measure of an amusement ride's suitability for young children. If the ride looks big, fast or scary, carries riders higher than six feet vertical, or operates in the dark, don't let your young children ride without an adult. Most amusement ride restraints are easy for a child to get out of. If your child panics and tries to get off while the ride is moving, you will be too far away to help and the operator may not be able to safely stop the ride in time to avert an accident.
  • Don't put young children on rides designed for older riders. Timid riders may panic on rides, even those that look quite tame to an adult. Never tease or bully a child into boarding a ride that frightens them. As a general rule, ride restraints fit less securely on young children than they do on adults, and children have less experience anticipating and bracing themselves against the strong forces exerted on amusement rides. A ride that you remember as being fun and fairly tame may be a risky choice for your first-grader to ride on alone, even if he is a "big boy" now.
  • Don't put older children on rides they've outgrown. Risktakers may be tempted to horseplay on slow "boring" rides. Even the tamest kiddie rides can cause serious injury to riders who don't stay properly positioned.
  • If a ride feels too big or too small for you or your child, choose another. Each park or carnival offers a variety of amusement ride experiences. Look for the ones that fit you and your family members.

Note: Serious accidents related to rider's size, such as those mentioned in this section, are rare, but patrons who fall into those categories should use extra caution in choosing rides that are safe for their body types.

Related Safety Tips

Safety first: It begins with me!
Attention Matters and So Do the Rules
Beware of patron daze, rule fudging, wiggle worms and horseplay.
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Patron-directed Rides and Devices
Injuries are more common on patron-directed amusement rides and attractions.
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Patrons with Disabilities
When choosing rides for people with disabilities, be conservative and realistic.
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Rides May Lack Child Restraints
Child-resistant restraints are not mandatory on most amusement rides approved for use by small children.