Should Kids Ride Without an Adult?

Toddler riding a kiddie coaster

Is it Safe to Let Small Children Ride Alone?

The answer depends on how well-secured small children are in the ride, potential hazard exposure, your child's age/temperament/personality, and the level of risk you're comfortable taking on her behalf. Here are some questions to ask:  

  • How Secure is the Containment/Restraint System? Close-fitting, secure child restraints are not required by law; even in rides used by very young children. When deciding whether to let your child ride alone on a particular amusement ride, take a careful look at the restraint system to make sure it's safe enough for your child.
  • What is the Potential Hazard Exposure? If a ride doesn't have a child-safe containment system, take a close look at the hazards (falls, exposure to moving parts, etc.) a child could encounter if he/she decides to get off the ride or reach arms/legs outside the carrier.
  • Knowing Your Child, How Might He/She Act/React to the Ride? Some children are more impulsive or adventurous than others.  If you've got a reasonably compliant child who's not easily frightened, you can probably follow the ride manufacturer's height/age guidelines.  On the other hand, if you spend your days retrieving your three-year-old from tree branches and ledges and dashes into traffic, wait a while before you put her on an amusement ride alone.
  • What Does Your Gut Tell You? If your parental instincts tell you that your preschooler might not be safe riding alone on heavy machinery, trust those instincts. It's worth noting that Disney, owners of the most successful amusement parks in the world, require adults to accompany children under 7 on all their rides. 

Some Ride Owners Charge Parents to Ride Along

Parents are much more likely to ride along with their small children at parks which include unlimited rides in the admission price.  Carnivals and family entertainment centers usually charge a fee for each ride.  The ride owner/operator decides whether to charge parents who accompany their children.  In cases where parents don't physically take up a seat, they're often allowed on for free, but not always.  Regardless of the ride owner's policy, cost should not determine whether you ride along.  Your children are priceless, and it's your job to keep them safe. 

Adults Aren't Allowed to Ride Along on Some Kiddie Rides

Some kiddie rides are so small that weight limitations prohibit parents from riding along.  Again, that doesn't mean the hazards have been eliminated. According to accident reports provided by state regulatory agencies (data covered time period from 1990s to 2008):

  • 13% of accidents on kiddie rides involve a fall from the carrier mid-cycle. The peak age is 2-years-old. More than half of the victims are 3-years-old or younger.
  • 71% of falls from kiddie rides resulted in head injuries, ranging from minor to fatal.
  • 23% of reports on falls from kiddie rides indicate that the child was hit by, run over by, and/or dragged by the machinery after falling out.

Don't Let Kids Supervise Kids on Amusement Rides

Older child fails to supervise younger child on amusement rideSenator Obama supervises his daughter on an amusement ride (2008)

Compare the two photos above and consider whether it's wise to let a child act as supervising companion for your little girl or little boy.  Note how easy it is for the girl in the first photo to get out of the restraint.  No matter what your politics are, we can all agree that the second photo shows a safer solution to the accompanied rider rule.

Some amusement ride manufacturers and owner/operators set low minimum height limits and allow very small children to board if accompanied by another child. This may be a viable way to increase the market for their product, but it is not a safe strategy for young children.

Children cannot protect each other from injury associated with the use of heavy machinery, even if the machine is painted and themed to look like a friendly cartoon character. And parents cannot protect children while they're standing outside the fence watching, no matter how vigilantly they're watching.  If the younger child decides to climb out of her seat, you'll be too far away to do anything.

If your child is too young or too small to ride alone, either skip that particular ride or make sure your child is accompanied by a responsible adult.

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