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posted: 5/13/2013 5:36 AM

Avoid that thrill ride to the ER

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  • Younger children need to take safety precautions when on amusement park rides to avoid injury.

    Younger children need to take safety precautions when on amusement park rides to avoid injury.

By Lee Bowman
Scripps Howard News Service

Kids and their folks may see thrills in the making, but some recent research holds up a caution flag on injury risks from some common amusement pastimes that can take a toll on summer fun.

Not to siphon all the fun out of childhood, but even something that seems like a benign "kiddie ride" can be dangerous.

A roller coaster doesn't have to be hundreds of feet tall or go faster than 100 miles an hour for a kid to get hurt riding it. Tumbling from a much tamer ride in a mall or arcade can do serious damage if a kid falls onto or off a bucking, rocking ride.

"Trampoline parks" have become the new rage for adults and tots alike. But whether on a park-sized jump mat or a back yard version, more than 90,000 people a year get hurt badly enough to seek treatment at an emergency medical department. About a third of them are age 6 and younger.

Nor are bouncy, inflatable attractions like moon bounces and slides, entirely safe just because they're soft. Researchers say the number of injuries requiring ER care from such rides among kids 17 and younger was 15 times greater in 2010 than in 1995 -- nearly 65,000 in all.

Amusement ride-related injuries sent more than 92,000 children younger than 18 to U.S. emergency departments from 1990 to 2010, researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, report in the May issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

Data for the study came from a national network of emergency rooms that report injuries under a program established by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Researchers said 70 percent of the injuries came between May and September, more than 20 a day, with an injury serious enough to require hospitalization occurring every three days, on average.

Injuries were most likely to come as the result of a fall (32 percent) or from hitting a part of the body on a ride or being hit by something while riding (18 percent). About 29 percent of the injuries happened on "mobile" rides -- equipment moved around for carnivals and fairs and directly regulated by the CPSC.

The rest of the injuries took place on "fixed" rides that stay in one spot, ranging from big-scale thrill rides in theme parks to petite rocking horse and merry-go-rounds in malls, restaurants and arcades. Those rides are regulated by state and local inspectors.

Dr. Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Columbus hospital, said almost 75 percent of the injuries on mall rides occurred when a child fell in, on, off or against the ride, which may often sit on hard surfaces and not have child restraints. Kids are more likely to sustain head/neck or face injuries or concussions or closed head injuries on those rides than on other equipment.

Smith also led the research on inflatable bouncers, which found that falls and collisions caused most injuries, most commonly fractures, strains, and head and neck trauma. Some of the most severe injuries came when a child was bounced out onto the ground or floor.

Researchers also know that about 75 percent of trampoline injuries happen when more than one person is jumping. Falls and collisions account for the most severe damage. Children 5 and younger are typically at greater risk for injury, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued a policy update on trampoline safety last fall that discouraged use of the back yard equipment.

Although some safety advocates and state lawmakers are pushing for regulation of trampoline parks, the Pediatric group said there's not enough data about the safety of the equipment in those settings. The policy did note that trampolines can play a positive role when used as part of a structured athletic training program that includes "appropriate coaching, supervision and safety measures."

Smith and his colleagues said parents need to closely supervise and monitor their children, especially younger kids, on all rides. They suggest keeping anyone younger than 6 out of the bouncers and allowing only one child on the equipment at a time if possible. Otherwise, make sure they're at least about the same age and size.

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