“It was just a few years ago that the Son of Beast roller coaster at King’s Island outside Cincinnati, Ohio, injured 25 riders who were sent to hospital after the coaster made a sudden stop. Can you imagine the horror of these parents and kids having their summer ruined by such an accident,” explains Donald, a Eugene grandparent who looks into coaster accidents after two of his grandkids were injured in a local strip mall after a “Carney” ride went wrong. At the same time, national attention focused on roller coaster safety after “the July 8 death of 29-year-old Army Sgt. James Hackemer – who lost both of his legs in the Iraq war – after being ejected from the Ride of Steel roller coaster in New York State. Hackemer hit the front of a nearby car, then hit the track and was thrown forward into a grassy area near Route 77,” reported rideaccidents.com July 13 after a local police investigation.
Roller coaster rides getting bigger, faster and more dangerous, say experts
The sharp turns, ups and downs, and high speeds of today's roller coasters bring a lot of thrills, but they also killed a 46-year-old man who fell from a roller coaster and later died in Houston at the end of March, while a 3-year-old boy also died after falling out of a roller coaster April 2; while roller coasters injuries are in the thousands nationwide during the spring and summer amusement park seasons.
Such roller coaster injuries and even deaths are not uncommon, states the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Moreover, aamusement park rides may be the cause of unexplained head, neck and back injuries seen in accident and emergency department, doctors have warned. At the same time, it’s up to individual states and various U.S. government agencies to inspect and regulate “amusement rides” – such as those at theme parts or the carnival rides that visit local county fairs and festivals here in the Eugene area and throughout the country.
In turn, the Consumer Product Safety Commission states that it “doesn’t investigate the incidents” involving roller coaster deaths and injuries. Simply put, there’s no federal oversight on dangerous roller coasters.
“We’ve had lots of kids hurt when those Carney’s come to town. They set up the rides right here in the parking lot, but we’re seeing fewer parents allowing their kids to get on those rides because they’re not safe,” says Eugene local Brenda Hayes who sells home-made jams at a popular farmer’s market that’s near a strip mall where carnival rides are popular during the summer season.
Thousands injured each year on roller coaster rides
The Consumer Product Safety Commission notes “thousands are injured each year at fixed-ride and traveling ride sites across the U.S. each year, but there’s no hard facts on just how many people are killed or injured, said Beth Robertson, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Robertson says 300 million people take more than 1.5 billion trips on fixed-site rides each year.
"The likelihood of being injured on a ride, injured enough to require a visit to an overnight hospital stay, is one in 10 million," Robertson said. "The chances of being fatally injured are one in 790 million."
While those are pretty good odds if you’re a roller coaster fan thinking of hitting the parks this spring and summer season, there’s some other factors to consider, says Bill Avery, president of Orlando-based Avery Safety Consulting.
“For one thing, people might feel banged-up after a ride, but shrug it off during their visits. They wake up the next morning, and they can't move, and they go to the ER. And they find out they have a broken neck," explained Avery, a former amusement park ride industry safety expert who often serves as an expert witness in lawsuits involving amusement park injuries.
Congress asks for federal oversight on roller coaster rides
"It is simply inexcusable that when a loved one dies or is seriously injured on these rides, there is no system in place to ensure that the ride is investigated, the causes determined, and the flaws fixed, not just on that ride, but on every similar ride in every other state," wrote U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in response to media queries about why he’s been pushing for federal oversight of fixed-site rides for years.
Meanwhile, congressional records and testimonies about roller coaster safety – that go back as far as the Sixties – point to lawmakers sharing stories from people in their states who write or call about roller coaster accidents causing “terrible injuries and deaths.”
Moreover, ongoing roller coaster investigations by the British government have examined “the root causes of injuries and deaths on amusement rides in England.”
Those studies found incidents occurred when G-force levels were within established limits of human tolerability.
"The G-forces were still important, but considered of secondary importance due to modifying factors related to the ergonomics of the passenger containment system as a whole," the British study reported.
Moreover, one of the leading British and world researchers in roller coaster “G-forces” noted his fears during a recent BBC interview.
“We’re concerned roller coaster G-forces will reach and exceed the body’s threshold of tolerance, giving rise to a wave of amusement park injuries each year,” stated Dr. Robert Braksiek, who also noted the British study of roller coaster incidents involved:
The study found that the majority of incidents involved:
-- During the past 10 years, there have been 15 reports in medical literature of life-threatening brain injuries caused by riding roller coasters.
-- Several of the authors of these reports have said giant roller coasters produce enough G-forces to cause brain injury.
-- Some rides, say British researchers, “reach G-forces exceeding those experienced by space shuttle astronauts.”
"As roller coasters continue to push the envelope of speed, otolaryngologists need to be aware of this new cause of barotrauma to the ear," says Dr. Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, Chair, Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital. "Based on our research, we recommend that passengers remain facing forward for the duration of the ride to not let the full impact of acceleration hit the ear,” added Yaremchuk in a recent report about roller coaster safety.
The Henry Ford Hospital study into roller coaster-induced ear barotrauma is centered on a 24-year-old male who experienced pain and fullness in his right ear about 36 hours after riding a roller coaster at a local amusement park, the report stated.
“As the ride began to accelerate, the patient's head was turned to the left to speak with his girlfriend, causing his right ear to sustain full impact of the forward throttle. The roller coaster he was riding reaches a maximum speed of 120 mph within 4 seconds. When examined by Henry Ford otolaryngologists, the patient's left ear was normal; however, the right ear canal was swollen and the ear drum inflamed,” the reported stated.
Upon further examination, Dr. Yaremchuk and co-author Samer Al-khudari, M.D., “estimated that the patient's right ear was exposed to about 0.6 PSI (pound per square inch, used to measure pressure) when the roller coaster accelerated. While not enough to perforate the ear drum, the pressure was enough to cause barotrauma to the ear.
External pressure or compression can cause inflammation in the ear, leading to increased swelling and redness. For example, approximately 0.62 PSI is required to cause capillary closure in arterioles (the small thin-walled arteries that end in capillaries) of human fingers.”
New faster, more dangerous roller coasters unveiled for 2011 season
The Busch Gardens Tampa Bay web site notes how the park “will introduce a new breed of speed that invites guests to celebrate the spirit of the cheetah. This new generation of thrills emerges from the crossroads where up-close animal encounters and awe inspiring rides come together.”
The Busch Gardens web site also notes that “the centerpiece of the new attraction is Cheetah Hunt, a Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) Launch Coaster that uses the force of repelling magnets to launch riders from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds - not once, but three times.”
“Cheetah Hunt covers a lot of ground, setting a new distance record for Busch Gardens’ roller coasters at 4,429 feet of track. After leaving the Crown Colony Plaza area, it races across a portion of the Serengeti Plain, staying close to the ground to give guests the experience of a cheetah sprinting across the plains. Elements such as over-banked turns, air-time parabolas and a heart line roll inversion imitate the agile creature chasing its prey, leaping and pouncing into the Nairobi area, where the train twists through a rocky gorge that was formerly part of Rhino Rally. At the far end of this three-quarter-mile path, a third burst of speed rockets the train back across the plain toward the station in a thrill-ride experience unlike anything Busch Gardens guests have ever experienced,” Busch Gardens promotion states.
Moreover, the popular ultimate site roller coaster.com web points to those “must ride” attractions at amusement and theme parks that offer what kids want, and that’s roller coasters that are “big and fast, intimidating and scary.”
“The moment we begin the first descent our body fills with adrenaline creating a "thrill-seeker high,” the roller coaster web site promises, while adding “for thrill-seekers it's a love affair with the excitement a roller coaster offers.”
Image source of roller coaster: Wikipedia