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Different Types of Injury Accidents
Message posted by Robert Niles (via 64.175.184.131) on December 30, 2001 at 12:00 AM (ET)

We've talked about safety issues in several discussions here on Theme Park Insider. Many of those have ended up focusing on blame and who should be liable for theme park accidents.

Unfortunately, I don't think we've given enough attention to the fact that theme park accidents aren't all the same. We shouldn't judge an accident that results from a toddler squirming away from its parent's grip on a playground by the same standard as one that results from a teenager jumping from a roller coaster car. Nor should we think about an accident resulting from a park employee's failure to his or her job right the same way we judge an injury that resulted from a customer's mid-ride claustrophobia attack.

With that in mind, I start this debate by suggesting that there are several general types of injury accidents at theme parks. (Obviously, some accidents will fall into more than one category, as accidents can-and often do-have multiple causes.)

1. People Being Foolish

These are the accidents that happen when riders willfully ignore rules to stay seated, or to keep their hands and arms inside vehicles. And when riders do things that are just plain stupid, like jumping between dark ride cars and hopping off roller coasters.

Anyone's who watched an idiot pull these kinds of stunts understandably wants people like this thrown out of the parks. As they should be. Better enforcement is the key to reducing the number of this type of accident. Parks need to videotape their attractions, and maintain a visible cast presence, in queues and on rides. The message must be, "We're here, and we're watching. If you're here to have a great time, we're here to help. But if you're here to be stupid, then we're here to help you on your way to the parking lot... or jail."

That's right. Parks should throw safety violators out, confiscate their tickets *and* prosecute them. Word spreads quickly.

Of course, foolishness shouldn't carry a death sentence. Parks can help protect the health of those they are about to eject by working with designers to make rides even more "idiot proof." And parks and their employees should do what they can to spread the word about the consequences of misbehavior.

2. People Being Ignorant (Usually, Children Making Mistakes)

The smallest children don't have the ability to comprehend some rules. As a result, they can get hurt when the ride's design creates an opportunity for injury, a child does the wrong thing and the parent, for whatever reason, cannot or does not stop them.

Also, every year brings more first-time visitors who honestly don't know what they are doing. Perhaps the park's signs and instructions are in a language they don't understand. Or, they think they've followed instructions by heeding published health warnings, but they don't know they have a medical condition that will put them at risk.

Most often, though, when kids get hurt at theme parks, it is off the rides: Tripping while walking or running, getting squished in a crowd, crunching fingers or toes in a door or turnstyle. Dehydration, sunburn and a disrupted daily routine can each also make little kids even harder to handle when they are on a ride, and at risk.

The solutions? First, better engineering. The less risk riders are exposed to, the fewer injuries they will collectively suffer due to ignorance. But, ultimately, it's education that will help reduce the number of these accidents. Parents need to know when are the most critical moments to watch the children-such as when they are boarding and exiting an attraction.

I'd love to hear parks add this queue spiel to their standard operating procedures: "Parents, please pay extra attention to your children as they prepare to get in and out of the ride vehicle. Most injuries occur at these times. Do not let your child get out of a vehicle until an attendant says that it is okay."

Of course, then parks would need to make sure that they kept load and unload positions in their labor budgets so people would have someone to look to for an okay.

Finally, parks should ensure that their signs and warnings are clear and apparent, and that they appear in multiple languages, including all those appropriate for the visitors the park attracts.

3. Mechanical or Employee Failures

From personal experience in the parks, I'd suggest that this is--by far--the least common type of accident. But its the type that gets the most attention.

Indeed, of the accidents reported to Theme Park Insider, more whose cause could be determined fell into this category that the others. (About 40 percent for this, compared with about 34 percent for people being ignorant--usually due to undiagnosed medical condition--and about 26 percent for people being foolish.)

Again, when I worked at Disney, I saw more people get hurt from being foolish than from being the victim of a mechanical or employee failure. But when those failures did happen, those were the accidents that everyone talked about. It's the paradox of news. That which is news is news because it is so unusual: Chaos at Michigan Adventure falling off its support arm. A metal boat cleat flying into the crowd at Disneyland, killing an innocent patron.

How do we reduce the number of these accidents? The easiest way, I think is to improve employee's training and experience. Ultimately, that means parks need to offer higher wages and better benefits, so they have less turnover. From my experience, it's the rookies who make the mistakes. If parks think they can't afford it, well, one or two jury awards will wipe out whatever "savings" a park gets from keeping wages so low that they can't hold onto the experiences personnel who can prevent serious accidents.

Obviously, better engineering can help as well. Especially, if it is backed by regular, independent safety checks by inspectors who know what they are doing.

Finally, education. If certain parks or manufacturers have unacceptable safety records, the public ought to have a way to know. Mandatory reporting of injury accidents, no matter what the cause, can help the public find out just how many of each of these kinds of accidents occur.

[Note -- After a private conversation, I've decided to add a fourth type:

4. Design Flaws.

This doesn't really fit under the category of a mechanical failure because the ride *is* doing what it was designed to do. Examples of this type of accident would include people blacking out or getting concussions from high G forces or rough rides, as well as riders suffering bruised tailbones after a dip lifts them out of their seats and then drives them back down too harshly.]


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