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Report: Thrill Rides Can Be Kill Rides

Finds 8 deaths, 58 injuries to brain from g-force

WEDNESDAY, May 8, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Planning a trip this summer to an amusement park? A U.S. Congressman has some information that may leave you shaking your head.

Roller coasters and other thrill rides have been linked to at least 58 head injuries, three times more than previous believed. Eight of the injuries were fatal, says a new report from U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who wants tighter regulation over the amusement park industry.

The injuries were believed to be the result of excessive gravitational forces (g-forces) that jerk the brain violently inside the skull. All of the deaths occurred since 1992, corresponding with a building boom in the roller coaster industry that has seen ever faster and more powerful rides.

Markey has been a longtime, but so far unsuccessful, crusader for thrill ride standards that would help protect riders from brain trauma caused by high g-forces. Markey is also seeking more research into the effects of thrill ride forces on the brain.

The absolute risk of sustaining an injury is small, though, given that millions of park visitors take billions of rides each year.

"This is a rapidly growing problem that will soar out of control if the industry does not wake up to its responsibility to the riding public," Markey said in a statement. "The average roller coaster riders are not graduates of astronaut training like John Glenn or Sally Ride, and they surely should not be placed in a situation where the forces of the ride test the limits of human endurance."

David Moulton, a spokesman for Markey, said the industry has scorned the legislator's calls for a voluntary standard. But he predicted that stance will backfire when states impose their own regulations that might be stricter than those parks would have devised.

New Jersey is poised to become the first state to propose a g-force limit on rides within its borders. According to Markey's figures, two of the head trauma cases occurred there.

E. J. Miranda, a spokesman for the state's department of community affairs in Trenton, said the regulations, due in October, will contain a g-force provision. But that requirement hasn't yet been finalized.

Miranda said the new standards were spurred by the deaths two years ago of a woman and her young daughter on a ride in Ocean City, N.J. That incident didn't involve g-forces, he added, but regulators decided to examine their role in amusement park injuries nonetheless.

California, home to Disneyland, Magic Mountain and other popular parks, led the nation with 10 head injury cases. Pennsylvania and Texas were next with six each, followed by Florida with five and Nevada and Ohio with four.

The new numbers include 22 cases published in the medical literature, along with 36 unpublished cases. Moulton said those that haven't appeared in print were reported to Markey's office. His staff sent those claims to a Pennsylvania doctor to make sure they didn't involve operator or rider error, illness, or other factors that could explain the injury.

Incidents were reported mostly in the United States, but they also happened in Europe, Canada and elsewhere. They involved both small parks and noted large ones such as California's Disneyland, EuroDisney in France, and Six Flags parks in Texas. Injuries included brain bleeding, tears of the retina and other serious harm.

Moulton said the Bush administration has so far expressed no interest in joining Markey's effort to police the ride industry. However, he added, the White House's first choice to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Mary Sheila Gall, testified that she believes there's insufficient evidence for such regulation. The Senate rejected Gall's nomination amid outcry by consumer groups.

Bret Lovejoy, president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), called Markey's comparison of rides with space flight "a gross exaggeration." The g-forces experienced on roller coasters and other amusements are often less than those felt during daily life, such as in a quick stop in a car, he said.

Lovejoy also objected to Markey's claim that the industry has tried to avoid regulation, saying his group has been involved in an effort by the standards group ASTM International to forge voluntary rules for its 450-odd fixed site members.

Last year 320 million people visited U.S. amusement parks, taking more than 3 billion rides, according to the IAAPA.

What To Do

For more on amusement park safety, try the office of U.S. Rep. Edward Markey or the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

For more on brain trauma, try the Brain Injury Association of America.

SOURCES: David Moulton, spokesman, Rep. Edward Markey, (D-Mass.), Washington, D.C.; E. J. Miranda, spokesman, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Trenton; Bret Lovejoy, president, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, Alexandria, Va.; Markey report
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