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Parents: Don’t park your safety concerns when you take your child to the amusement park

“As we’ve seen in news reports, accidents happen at amusement parks,” writes Dr. Gary Freed. “Consequences range from skinned knees to serious injuries.”

In 2016, more than 30,000 people sustained injuries at amusement parks that were serious enough to require going to a hospital emergency department.

If you’re planning on taking your children to an amusement park this summer, be sure you talk with them about safety issues, including what they should do if they get lost.

And if you see ride operators acting unsafely — such as not enforcing height requirement rules or talking on a cellphone while operating a ride — be ready to report that behavior to the amusement park’s manager.

A significant number of parents do not do either of those things, according to a survey taken earlier this spring by researchers at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.  

“As parents prepare for summer trips to the amusement park or local fair, they should keep safety at the top of mind,” says Dr. Gary Freed, the poll’s co-director, in a released statement. “As we’ve seen in news reports, accidents happen at amusement parks. Consequences range from skinned knees to serious injuries.”

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In 2016, more than 30,000 people sustained injuries at amusement parks that were serious enough to require going to a hospital emergency department, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

‘Unique challenges’ for parents

The University of Michigan survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,214 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 5 and 12 years — an age range that the survey’s researchers say provide “unique challenges for parents of amusement parks and carnivals.”

“On the younger end of this age range, children need consistent supervision to ensure they meet the height requirements for rides and that they understand other safety rules (such as keeping hands away from the safety latch),” Freed and his colleagues explain in their report on the survey. “Children at the older end of this age range may want more freedom to roam the amusement park and go on rides with friends, without constant parental supervision.”

About 82 percent of the parents surveyed reported they had been to an amusement park with their child in the past three years, and about 85 percent said they had accompanied their child on that trip.

Most of the parents — 89 percent — also said they had their child stay with them or another adults at all times, while 6 percent set check-in times for their child to contact them, either in person or by cellphone.

Yet, only 79 percent of the parents said they had talked with their child about what to do if they got separated from them.

Even if you plan to stay with your child, it’s important to have a back-up plan in case you do get separated, Freed emphasizes.

Reporting unsafe behavior

The survey also found that although most of its respondents (87 percent) believe that parents and ride operators have a dual responsibility to make sure children are safe at amusements parks, they had differing views about which kinds of behaviors by ride operators they would report for being unsafe.

Nine out of 10 parents (94 percent) said they would definitely report a ride operator they suspected of being drunk or on drugs to someone in authority at the amusement park. And seven out of 10 (69 percent) said they would also definitely report a ride operator for not enforcing safety rules, such as making sure that height requirements are followed or checking to see that seat belts, safety bars and other restraints are properly secured.

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But less than half of the parents (48 percent) said they would report a ride operator who was talking on his or her cellphone while operating a ride.

“Even though cell phone use may seem less harmful, it poses a significant distraction that can increase the risk of accident or injury,” says Freed.

Another concern 

Surprisingly, only six in 10 (59 percent) of the parents surveyed said they thought ride operators should undergo random drug and alcohol testing. Others said the testing should be weekly (13 percent of the respondents) or yearly (3 percent), and one in 10 (11 percent) thought it should be done only when the ride operators were suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

As Freed and his colleagues point out in their paper, the training and supervision of ride operators varies among amusement parks, and parents should not assume that ride operators have been recently tested for the workplace use of alcohol or illicit drugs.

“There have been several reports in the media about operators losing their jobs for being high or intoxicated while on the job, often after management has been alerted by concerned parents or other guests,” they write. “It is important for parents [to] be aware of any concerns regarding ride operators to help make sure their kids stay safe at amusement parks and carnivals and report potential dangers to management.”

“Parents should consider contacting the management of the amusement park or carnival whenever they see anything that raises safety concerns,” they add.

FMI: You can the report on the survey at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital website.