Jan. 11, 2002 With the advent of amusement park rides reaching G-forces that exceed those experienced by astronauts on the space shuttle, emergency physicians may be seeing a significant increase in head, neck and back trauma, warned an article in this issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine (Amusement Park Injuries and Death).
The authors reviewed reports of amusement park injuries and fatalities that have been published in the medical literature as well as data collected from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and literature on physics and physiologic effects of roller coasters.
Based on CPSC data and the 900 million amusement park rides visitors take each year, the authors calculated that the risk of injury requiring medical attention is one in 124,000 rides; the risk of injury requiring hospitalization is one in 15 million rides, and the risk of being fatally injured is one in 150 million rides.
“Although the risk of injury from amusement park rides today is low, our research uncovered a worrisome trend in the number and rate of amusement park injuries,” says Robert J. Braksiek, MD, of Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn. “It is important for healthcare providers when evaluating patients with neurological symptoms to ask if they have been on any of these thrill rides.”
Federal legislation passed in 1981 exempted large, fixed-site amusement parks like Disney World and Six Flags from reporting injuries or undergoing accident investigations by the CPSC. The authors believe this legislation has led to the actual number of injuries per year to be underestimated.
During the past 10 years, 15 case reports of life-threatening brain injuries caused by riding roller coasters have been published in the medical literature. Several authors, who presented these reports, commented that giant roller coasters produce enough G forces to cause neurologic injury.
“With fierce competition to build faster, more thrilling rides, we’re concerned roller coaster G forces will reach and exceed the body’s threshold of tolerance, giving rise to a wave of amusement park injuries each year,” added Dr. Braksiek. “As these injuries occur it is important that physicians are vigilant in reporting these injuries to authorities to help determine whether these rides are unsafe.”
The American College of Emergency Physicians is a national medical specialty organization with nearly 23,000 members. ACEP is committed to improving the quality of emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and a Government Services Chapter representing emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.
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