A 6-year-old falls to his death from a Ferris wheel in California. A 12-year-old boy dies on a roller coaster in Florida. So you're heading to the neighborhood festival wondering: Are amusement park rides safe for my kids?
Yes, if the ride carries a state inspection sticker, says Art Ludwig, director of the Illinois Department of Labor, which oversees the Carnival and Amusement Ride Inspection Division.
"If the inspectors themselves are not comfortable putting their children on a ride, they will not put an inspection sticker on it," says Ludwig.
The inspection sticker indicates that a yearly permit has been issued for the ride. The Department of Labor requires that fixed and mobile amusement park and carnival rides, public inflatable rides, go-karts and bungee attractions pass annual inspection before they operate. Water slides are inspected by the Illinois Department of Public Health, while inflatable rides for private rental are not agency-regulated.
"There were 12 reportable injuries [in Illinois] last year, seven of which were caused by patron error," Ludwig says, with no fatal accidents. A reportable injury is one that requires first aid.
Although Illinois does tend to be one of the safer states in the highly unregulated industry of amusement park rides, at least one parent says safety records don't speak the whole truth.
"Consumers are blamed for everything that isn't an obvious mechanical error or operator error," says Kathy Fackler, a parent advocate who started the California-based Saferparks, www.saferparks.org, after her son, David, then 5, lost part of his foot in a amusement park ride accident in 1998.
"Amusement park rides can be used safely by children, but they're not necessarily safe by design," she says, noting that design errors are often overlooked.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and a dozen reporting state safety agencies, 61 percent of all ride accidents involve kids under the age of 18.
Still, there are things parents can do to help prevent ride accidents. Ludwig advises parents to use common sense and observe all height, age and health requirements posted for the ride.
Fackler adds, "Ride with your children until you're sure they won't make a mistake on a ride."
For additional safety tips, accident data or out-of-state regulations, visit Web sites such as Fackler's, Theme Park Insider, www.themeparkinsider.com or the Council for Amusement and Recreational Safety, www.uscancares.org.