Data sources

The safety of amusement rides at theme parks and carnivals is a matter of considerable public interest, and guides decisions ranging from public policy about scope of regulatory oversight to choices made by individuals for themselves and their children. Interests include comparison of risk of amusement rides to the risk of other activities, comparison of one jurisdiction (or form of oversight) to others, or comparison between different types of attractions. This report blog uses media reports, but this page discusses other major sources:

  • Mandatory reports to regulators
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Florida quarterly reports
  • Media stories

Industry sources: IAAPA

Despite intense competition among operators, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) facilitates considerable information sharing on safety matters among operators and between operators and their manufacturers and suppliers. IAAPA requests injury tallies and ridership data from IAAPA members operating amusement and theme parks, tourist attractions, and family entertainment centers. Accident details are not requested, therefore are not publicly available through this reporting system. For reporting year 2018, 217 of 421 eligible North American facilities reported the number of injuries as well as attendance, ridership, or both, including 76% of IAAPA members operating amusement rides. Responses indicated 3.7 injuries per million attendance, or 0.8 injuries per million patron-rides, for injuries of all severity, of which 11% were serious injuries (those requiring hospitalization overnight or longer, other than for observation). Among the 2018 reports, 33% involved roller coasters, 58% other family and adult rides, and 9% children’s rides. [full report]

There is no international counterpart for portable rides, but the U.S.-based Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) estimates eight injuries per million riders, less than 1% being serious injuries [website]. Low rates may reflect strong overall safety. However, modest response rate and unknown number and performance of non-member operators limits global insight, and overall incidence rate does not answer specific questions public individuals may have about the relative safety of different types of attractions, local safety performance, or similar interests.

Mandatory reports to regulator

Regulators may obtain more detailed information through legally mandated reporting. For instance, the public safety regulator in Ontario, Canada, acquires and reports raw counts for several categories of attractions, such as roller coasters, go karts, waterslides, inflatable devices, and ziplines. TSSA (2017) reported no fatalities in the 11-year period 2008–2018, in an operating population of approximately 2 468 (in 2018) individual regulated amusement rides and devices. In the period, they recorded 4 028 occurrences, of which 90% involved “non-permanent” injuries. [report]

These sources are useful indicators of priority for policy attention since raw counts show the overall injury toll for the population. The number of occurrences may be elevated for devices that are particularly hazardous, or for devices that are not particularly hazardous but that are numerous. The individual patron making choices among options is interested in the former more than the latter. Raw counts cannot answer that interest without information about attendance/ridership exposure. Regulators do have access to device registrations, but there is substantial variation in the operating season and business volume from one device to another, limiting use of registration data as a measure of exposure. Furthermore, data from regulators only exists where amusement devices are regulated, which falls far short of national, let alone global, data coverage.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Another commonly used data source is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which collects data from a sample of Emergency Departments, statistically extrapolating to national incidence of injury involving consumer products. Often used to analyse and report on public safety of consumer products, NEISS data overstate the incidence of injury involving amusement rides: examination of records showed the inclusion of unrelated devices subsumed under the same product code [paper]. The CPSC has also acknowledged the potential effect of oversampling the vicinity of fixed-site amusement parks due to the location of participating Emergency Departments [paper] [paper]. In addition, while thoroughly recording injury detail and gender, age, and race of the injured person, the records capture little or no information about the type of ride or device involved. The CPSC NEISS system recorded no fatal injuries in either code 1293, Amusement Attractions (including Rides), or code 3295, Water Slides, Public (stationary Amusement Rides) in the 10-year period 2008–2017. The CPSC has stated it is “aware of” 22 fatalities involving amusement rides, excluding waterparks or waterslides, since 2010 [CNN], comparable to an average of 2 to 3 per year.

Florida quarterly reports

Major Florida theme parks report serious injuries to state authorities on a quarterly basis, and these occurrences are summarized in Central Florida news media and widely recirculated. These records identify the specific attraction involved and report the age, gender, and type of injury or illness for events requiring overnight hospital care in the previous quarter. Juxtaposition of these reports to industry attendance estimates and attractions descriptions can provide interesting insight. For example, in 2017, the world’s most-visited theme park, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, reported eight guest injury or illness cases that met the level requiring disclosure to the state of Florida and the news media (hospitalization overnight or longer, other than for observation). In the same period, 20,450,000 people visited the Magic Kingdom [report]. (Attendance is estimated by industry analysts. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts does not publicly disclose business volumes.) Seven of the cases ranged in age from 41 to 70, with the 8th case aged 17. Most were described as feeling ill or dizzy; two had pre-existing conditions. None of the cases involved malfunction of the attraction and there is no evidence from the injury descriptions that the attractions presented hazards in their design. The most “intense” attraction involved is described as having a maximum speed of 27 mph (12 m.s−1) and an estimated maximum acceleration of 2G mid-cycle. One of the injuries occurred during load-unload and another occurred in the use of a transportation train rather than a ride. Links to the quarterly report coverage are compiled on this page.

Media reports

Faced with barriers to accessing primary source reports, and limitations of sources such as regulators and NEISS to single jurisdictions, some researchers have used cumulative media reports [dissertation] [paper]. While media reports are selective and almost certainly exclude many occurrences, particularly less severe events, the emergence of social media has made it easy for reporters to discover events and even acquire video media to enhance their coverage, and conversely less feasible for operators to conceal serious events from the media. News can travel instantly around the world, unrestricted by borders and jurisdictional authorities, enabling a global view. Media coverage of an event is an indication that the event is serious enough that an editor believes it will be of interest to the news audience. As such, media reports are a practical and informative data source, if not perfectly complete.