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Are Roller Coasters Really Dangerous?

It is a good idea for roller coaster riders to inspect the equipment, including safety harnesses.
A roller coaster.
A closeup of a roller coaster.
People at risk for heart attacks should avoid roller coasters.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 June 2014
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Roller coasters are popular attractions at amusement parks all over the world, and patrons flock to them for thrills, especially in the summer. Some deaths and serious injuries have been associated with them, however, raising concerns about their safety, especially for fragile and elderly riders. The relative lack of regulation of the amusement park industry has also been a cause of concern for some lawmakers, who would like to see more oversight of rides to prevent injuries.

Statistically, a roller coaster is not very dangerous, especially if a rider is in good physical condition. Amusement park patrons are far more likely to die in accidents on the way to the park than they are to suffer injuries on a ride, assuming that the equipment is well maintained and run responsibly. Parks run many tests on their equipment to ensure that it is safe for use, including measurements designed to determine the g-forces that riders will be subject to. These facilities like their patrons healthy and alive, so they try to build rides that are fun and safe.

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There are, however, a few instances in which riding a roller coaster may be unsafe. For all riders, riding equipment that is not well maintained is risky. Before riding, it is always a good idea for riders to inspect the equipment as much as possible. They should look for signs of rust, poor repair jobs, or dirt, suggesting that the roller coaster is not well cared for. When the rider straps in, he or she should make sure that the straps are not faded, repaired, or frayed, and if a restraining bar is used, he or she should make sure that it locks into place snugly, leaving no room to wiggle or slide. Small children are especially at risk of falling out of cars with such bars, due to their small size, so their guardians must make sure that they are completely and safely restrained.

Roller coasters can also be dangerous for people with heart conditions. The sense of excitement that accompanies a ride is also accompanied by an elevated heart rate, which can cause an arrhythmia or myocardial infarction, better known as a heart attack. People with known heart conditions should talk to a medical professional about riding any rough ride, because they may be unsafe.

In addition, roller coasters have been linked with the appearance of blood clots on the brain, called subdural hematomas. A subdural hematoma occurs when blood vessels on the brain burst and the blood starts to clot, and it can be a serious health problem. This occurs very rarely, but it is linked with rides that subject patrons to high g-forces or instances where a passenger was whipped around as a result of poorly secured safety equipment. Individuals who take blood thinners should avoid such attractions for this reason, and anyone who experiences repeated headaches after a ride should mention it to a healthcare provider.

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Discuss this Article

anon958729
Post 17

When my daughter was 15, she rode a roller coaster at the state fair in 2013. Immediately after, she said she saw stars, and things went "dark," and she could not remember her phone number. Over nine months later, she is still suffering and is receiving ongoing medical care and evaluation. She missed the entire year of school and must repeat the grade.

Recently, we learned she did not remember the alphabet, cannot tell time, etc. She was just totally disabled by a headache the first six months. She spent two months in a dark room with no cell phone, no TV, no computer, no music.

Over time, she had eight days of IV infusions to try to treat the headaches. She may be going for a spinal tap in next few weeks and we have finally received word she needs physical therapy twice a week for three to four months. Our lives have been turned upside down by this. You would be disgusted by the inspection report and comments in print made by the ride owner about this ride.

anon355256
Post 16

With a traumatic brain injury, I absolutely will not ride roller coasters or even topsy turvy rides anymore. I tried and it hurt really bad.

anon342643
Post 15

Cars do not get anywhere near the G forces that coasters do. A good sports car may achieve close to 1G around a turn. That's it. Coasters flip and turn, and can achieve 3 to 5G's. It's much more severe than anything but a race car or dragster. True, the lack of shock absorbers and no enclosure make everything feel faster. But it's the high G´s, sharp twists and flips which make the difference.

anon341251
Post 14

I have several heart conditions and a pacemaker. I ride the biggest and fastest rides. My heart is closely monitored and I have had no issues. Not a single rhythm issue and this year so far I have been on 50 plus rides. I do it every day after work. I've never had any issues. But I also enjoy them like most do a hot tub. My heart rate actually went down. Please do not take this as a recommendation, but just know the effects of a coaster are not the same for all.

Mor
Post 13
I've always preferred rides that aren't so much about the massive speeds or swerves, but more about the story. One of the best roller coasters I've ever been on is Splash Mountain, even though it doesn't have many big falls. But, when you come up to one, you have a nervous buildup that makes it so much better.

Another amazing thing they do now is use 3D technology to put characters into the cars with you. I've seen that with a Spiderman ride and it was a lot scarier and more exciting than a ride where you are just speeding around a track.

pastanaga
Post 12
@anon277479 - That is definitely true. I've heard of some terrible accidents, including decapitation and most of them seem to happen to teenage boys who are mucking around on the ride and not obeying safety rules.

There are a couple of exceptions to that, of course, where a ride has come off the tracks or something, but it happens so rarely that I never really worry when I go on a ride. That's particularly true of new roller coasters that are tested a lot before they are opened to the public.

anon293321
Post 11

While I enjoyed roller coasters as a teen, I now look back with regret. They were fun, but I can't help but worry that my neck and back pain were possibly made worse by them. My orthopedist always advised me never to ride them and I did not listen. I would go to Disney and Universal with friends and go on roller coasters all day. I am lucky in that my neck and back pain is not bad, but if going on those rides caused it, it wasn't worth it. A few seconds of fun on a roller coaster will never be worth giving up a healthy back and neck.

Oceana
Post 10
@Kristee – I guess some people never grow out of this phase. I developed a love of roller coasters as a teen, and even though I'm forty-two, I still love riding them.

I really enjoyed introducing my kids to roller coasters when they were big enough to ride them. I even look forward to one day introducing my grandkids to them.

I have never seen or experienced an accident on a roller coaster. I have heard of a few, but they are just so rare that I think it's worth taking the risk. I wouldn't put my family on a ride that looked rickety, but all of the major amusement parks maintain their roller coasters very well.

lighth0se33
Post 9
Roller coasters can also be dangerous to people with polycystic kidney disease. I have this condition, and I cannot participate in any activity that has the potential to cause trauma to my abdomen.

I have multiple cysts on both kidneys, and if they rupture, they bleed and cause extreme pain. If I were to board a roller coaster that didn't have me strapped in very snugly, my body could get knocked around in the seat and this could make some of my cysts burst.

Kristee
Post 8
When I was a young teenager, I wanted to ride all the scariest roller coasters. I think that when we are younger, we just don't think about the dangers. We anticipate the thrills.

I rode roller coasters that flipped upside-down multiple times, and I even rode one that had riders suspended from an overhead track so that the track underneath could drop away at one point, adding to the thrill.

If I got on one of those today, I would probably have a panic attack. I can't believe all the crazy stuff I exposed myself to as a teen!

kylee07drg
Post 7
My friend wanted to ride this old wooden roller coaster at an amusement park. It was supposed to be the oldest one in the whole park, but this is exactly what made me not want to ride it.

I have a lot more faith in metal's strength and durability than in that of wood. The fact that the wood was old meant that it had been exposed to the elements for a really long time, and this gave me another reason to hesitate.

I wound up making her ride it alone. She wasn't too happy about this, but when it comes to roller coasters, I don't take risks.

anon283600
Post 6

Might I add that sharp accelerations can cause brain aneurysms to burst?

anon277479
Post 5

Most roller coaster accidents happen when someone is doing something that is stupid.

amypollick
Post 3

I'd say the main reason roller coasters can be dangerous is because of people like me, who get sick on everything. Fortunately, I have enough sense to stay off the things, but many people take the risk anyway, and their inner ear makes them pay with wracking motion sickness.

The vast majority of roller coaster injuries are caused by someone doing something completely stupid while on the ride. Once in a while, a mechanical malfunction occurs, but these are extremely rare. Most roller coaster accidents are caused by someone doing something completely boneheaded.

anon192243
Post 2

Most rollercoasters don't travel any faster than cars on a freeway, but the designers remove a lot of the things that make a car ride feel so smooth at highway speeds. There are no shock absorbers on a rollercoaster to even out the curves, for example. Riders in a regular car would also be thrown around if there weren't strong suspension springs holding the car steady. The rollercoaster cars also have nothing between the rider and the outside elements, so he or she gets a better idea of how fast the wind is moving.

Passengers in a regular car know that the driver can stop the car with the brakes if it gains too much speed going downhill, but rollercoasters only use brakes at the end of the ride or in extreme emergencies. This feeling of being out of control makes rollercoasters feel like they're going faster than they actually are.

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