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How safe can the summer of '09 be at America's theme parks?

Written by
Published: May 4, 2009 at 11:20 AM

That's the question - and the challenge - that I have today, not just for the nation's theme parks, but for the fans who visit them, as well.

We've long been advocates for theme park safety, here at Theme Park Insider. In 2001, we created Accident Watch, which empowered readers to track injury accidents at top theme and amusement parks, information which at that time was not being collected by any government agencies at the U.S. federal or state level. (A little trivia: that feature won an Online Journalism Award from Columbia University and the Online News Association, making the first time a major journalism award was given to a "crowdsourced" online feature, reported and written by readers.)

After tracking hundreds of accidents at parks in the United States and around the world, plus my five years' experience working as an attractions operator, it's become apparent to me that the vast majority of injury accidents at theme parks could be prevented, and often by the people injured themselves.

So let's do that.

Let's make 2009 a summer when no person under the age of 21 dies at a U.S. theme park. With help from many Theme Park Insider readers, I've compiled a list of Top 10 theme park safety tips, and I'm asking everyone to read them before your next theme park visit. And to forward these tips to family and friends, too.

More than that, I'm today asking all U.S. theme and amusement parks to publish these (or comparable) safety tips on their websites, with a link from the front page of their sites. Plus, to put safety tips in a prominent location on their free park guidemaps as well.

The biggest traffic days at ThemeParkInsider.com each year are the ones when someone loses his or her life at a theme park. While I love welcoming new visitors to the TPI community, I don't want to see any more traffic surges for that reason again. I want this site to be filled with talk of vacations, thrills, storytelling, and good-natured debate among fans. None of us want to see any more stories about tragedy.

So let us, all, do what we can to prevent it. I invite TPI readers to tell us what they are doing to help make their theme park visits safe. And I invite theme park representative to come on the site and tell us what they've done to accept our challenge, to help spread the word about how to stay safe at theme and amusement parks.

Again, here's the link: Top 10 theme park safety tips

Let's have a great summer.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on May 4, 2009 at 1:08 PM
Very good, but it just seems to me that alot of theme park deaths are really caused by the person's neglegence and not "following common sense". Still, its a good goal and message and everybody should read your ten tips. They have been changed and edited over the years to give the most complete and accurate list out there.
From Chris Danger on May 4, 2009 at 3:19 PM
Alot of these "incidents" are easily preventable. I would gather 99% of them are tied to general human stupidity. All you have to do is obey the signs and stay out of areas you dont belong, it isnt rocket science gang :)
From Derek Potter on May 4, 2009 at 8:50 PM
Good guidelines to go by. Everybody be safe and smart....try not to win a Darwin award this year.
From Pyra Dong on May 4, 2009 at 9:03 PM
I read the 10 Tips and you couldn't be more right-- especially in saying that restriction and warning signs are there for a reason. I have no idea how many times I've had to to "argue" with a parent who gets upset b/c their child is much too short for a ride. I wonder if they'll still be upset when their child falls off (mild laughter). Theme parks are definitely places to have fun, but safety for all takes precedence.
From Jeff M on May 5, 2009 at 9:15 AM
Wow.... what a topic to post! Robert brings up some decent points for people to do either for themselves, others with them, or just plain other park goers that are attending the park during the same visit. I have to agree with him, but am VERY sad to see him miss out on the biggest topic amongst any person sharing a public space with other people!

You see all his 10 points/topics are physical in some way. Mainly in the way that is controlled by oneself! Common sense towards proper actions. I pose this point mainly for extra topic of discussion....

What is the biggest or main cause of injury/death? (before I go on, if ANYONE wishes to debate this topic, please think before you try to justify any words soon to be spoken/typed)
ANSWER: Cigerette smoking! #1 is first hand smoking-one that smokes the cigarette themselves. #2 is alcohol. and folks...#3 is secondhand smoke! Yes we live in a free country, so if you choose to smoke, enjoy because your controlling your own fate, but please follow a parks guidelines for it's consumption. Same with alcohol consumption, but not all parks offer it to their guests. The one's that do offer it have specific reasons and controls that's why we can have a "drink" on their property. Secondhand smoke on the other hand is NOT controlled by the one smoking. Not like we can post signs and tell the non-smokers not to enter a controlled area because they may receive harmful conditions, etc....so it's just easier to post simple signs and hope that the smokers utilize these areas accordingly. This is the most cost effective route a park can take and seems to usually work.

My last personnal family trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg (April 25th & 26th of this year) went well except for the people who seem to believe that they did not have to use the designated smoking areas to enjoy their own guilty pleasures! Whether it be people smoking in the queues, or in areas that they may feel are out of the way of others until someone passes by. Lastly, just because your outdoors and there is no wind does NOT justify breaking the park rules. I brought this to the attention of a passing security person, and was told, "Sir...If I try to govern everyone that is not abiding by the park rules then there would be many un-happy park goers." I stood there dumb-founded thinking what the hell did he just say??? I was about to make a call to personnal office, and then get some operational mgt involved, but my wife soon told be to calm down and tend to my daughter (who is 5 years old) and began to get upset and started to cry! Why any of you may wonder???

FYI - my mom, God rest her soul, passed away about just over two years ago from a combined condition of COPD and Lung Disease due to her chronic smoking habit. Yes, she tried to quit, but just never could shake the habit. My daughter remembers how this effected our family and soon was screaming that she misses her grandma! Tramatized by this happening and due to the fact another Mother's day is soon upon us, I felt the need to bring this to anyone's attention. Let the record state... my Mom NEVER smoked around my kids once they were born!!! She also abided by any and all rules by any public place she attenbed with us!

I DO NOT wish to create controversy over this issue and Robert I apoligise to you Sir if I've spoken out of turn on your site regarding some other form of tragedy. I just felt you brought up some topics and stated 10 points that have some validity, but fail to be the "top ten" issues within a "Safe Summer at America's Theme Parks". For whatever reason you missed this one, so be it, but second hand cigarette smoke is such an issue in so many states and within many "PUBLIC" places that I guess I just see it as a stronger safety point issue. An issue that can't be controlled by anyone except the person smoking.

In comparision, someone who controls their illegal entrance to a posted off limit ride area and gets hurt, killed, or does this harm to a ride goer is in the wrong. I can agree with this one, because the harm not only comes to that said person, but possibly to the rider, or riders! The other's, like dehydration, sun-burn, your own personnal health conditions, etc...usually only harm that specific person or the people their with.

In closing, since this issue wasn't added, I'm curious to see what other issues may be spoken of? I'm unable to speak of ANY operational issues I'm aware of at parks I visit unless I personnally deal with them. If I did bring more topice/issues up here, then I'd be putting myself out of a job in some ways! Please keep me as well as the rest of your readers informed if ANY parks take up your challenge??? I'm sure you will, but there are plenty of safety issues that could be listed, and not everyone or every park may consider these ten to be a "Top Ten".

From Joshua Counsil on May 5, 2009 at 11:04 AM
^ Who invited Rob Reiner to the party? J/K.

I have rarely had problems with people smoking in the parks, especially in the major parks. I'm an on-and-off smoker, meaning I like to have the occasional (once every couple of months) cigarette, usually when I drink. Truth be told, second-hand smoke is somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. Sick, I know, but I love the smell. But I digress ... I almost always see the smokers following the posted signs and using the designated sections, and thus I really don't consider it to be a problem.

On another note, as everyone has pointed out, this list is mostly on a self-control basis. Considering the people who break the trespassing rules cannot read a small sign, what makes us think they'll read these safety tips?

I'd like to see a death-free theme park summer, but let's face it - people make mistakes.

From Anthony Aldridge on May 5, 2009 at 4:35 PM
at Six Flags ST. Louis which i have no affiliation with ride and park safety is a top priority with signs in Que Lines on ride platforms on roller coaster trains and an audible announcement plus loose objects aren't allowed on rides.
From 71.114.32.87 on May 8, 2009 at 9:12 PM
Last year I had a self-induced accident at Cedar Point, fortunately not a vacation-ender.

I was over at the adventure park, my son was riding the big chair. I was filming him, and needed to shoot over the railing. So I stood up on one of the park benches with my videocamera.

The benches had upside-down triangles, with large metal plates welded to the botton triangle point to provide a stable base.

Unfortunately, the bench I stood on was missing the front halves of the large metal plates, so at some point the bench just fell backwards.

And of course, I had to save the camera, and when it was done I had fallen with my upper legs across the front edge of the now-prone bench, after which I did a forward roll (for a rather obese older person I apparently am still pretty nimble, I impressed a teenager watching in amusement).

My legs were black-and-blue for the rest of the trip, and I was limping for a couple of days, but the camera survived intact.

I think the moral of the story is pretty clear, but that doesn't mean I'll never stand on a bench again. Probably the parks should make sure their benches can't flip over, because there will always be stupid people like me standing on them.

From Tiffany Alfonso on May 9, 2009 at 5:30 AM
Personally, I went to Epcot on the same day when a 67-year old man was rushed to a hospital after riding Soarin' my mother's favorite ride at Walt Disney World. It was a sunny MLK holiday, on the actual date, and we were off to board the attraction. Much to our chagrin, we found that the ride was closed! Thinking it was maintenance that caused it, we carried on by taking photo ops of perfect backdrops and Disney Characters before we headed back to Soarin' at about 6 pm with Fastpasses on hand and called it a day. (I didn't watch Illuminations, since I had school the next day.) When I read the news, I found out that the old man named John Parietti struggled with exiting the ride, with slurred speech and right-side weakness. Paramedics rushed him to Sand Lake Hospital, where he died two days after our visit.

The moral of the story is clear - have regular checkups, obey the posted warnings, and stay fit. It's all about common sense, if you ask me.

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