The Secret Dangers of Amusement Parks

Everyone knows that corn dogs + funnel cakes + a ride that spins you around like crazy till the bottom falls out probably equals upchuck. And we've all heard the horror stories about people getting struck by roller coasters, stuck upside down for hours on a broken ride, or falling during a photo shoot with a Bengal tiger and getting mauled (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, 1998). But there are lots of other dangers at the amusement park that are less well known and won't show up in accident reports, from the life-threatening to the merely smelly and inconvenient. Here are some things to watch out for.

Related: Theme parks opening new attractions for 2012

(For the record, the most recent safety report from IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) shows only 4.4 reported injuries per million riders. And Gary Slade, editor of industry trade publication Amusement Today told Yahoo! Shine "People should not be concerned about safety, other than doing something stupid. You're safer at the amusement park than you are driving your car.")

Hurting your neck or back

"For the most part, injuries that we see are back and neck injuries, sustained on different roller coasters," says Jason Herrera, president of industry watchdog group the Amusement Safety Organization. Parks warn people with pre-existing back and neck injuries to steer clear of specific rides but, Herrera says, "healthy people get off the ride with a strained back or neck spasms, too. Let's be realistic, if you're riding a high-impact ride, you are risking injury." The ASO gathers incident reports from parks worldwide and publishes them on its website, and there are a handful of back and neck injuries daily.

Squashing your kid on a flume ride
"Flume" is the industry term for water rides like the ones with log-shaped floating cars. Traditionally, these cars are wide open, with no safety restraints, hand rails, or dividers between passengers. They look like pokey, slow, kid-friendly options, but the final drop is intense, and a heavier person sitting behind a lighter person (i.e., a parent with a child in their lap) can go flying forward and split the kid's lip, among other injuries.

Letting your kid ride alone
Small children get scared on rides, and try to stand up or get out and sometimes they succeed and injuries occur. "Ride with your kid,'" Herrera says.

Hurting yourself on the stairs, not the ride
"The biggest thing you see from the side of the industry," says Gary Slade from Amusement Today, "is guests running down the stairs, ramps and walkways, that will result in a cut, bruise, scrape or bloody knee." Also, caution to parents, according to Steven Ball, the general manager of Frontier City in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, younger kids may be more likely to hurt themselves through being careless and excited when they come to amusement parks, though it happens people of all ages.

Blacking out because you're hung over
It's surprising, but not so much when you think about it. The ASO gets "around 20 reports a year," Herrera says, of people who show up dehydrated after an admitted night of heavy drinking, and black out on their first ride.

Flying coasters

A new type of ride that's appeared in the past few years, a flying coaster is like a roller coaster but patrons are lying down. Herrera says that he sees more black outs, vomiting, and disorientation from flying coasters than from traditional seated ones. He speculates that it's because people aren't used to lying down while experiencing force, stress and speed.

Old wooden roller coasters
The Cyclone in Coney Island and the Knott's Berry Farm GhostRider are two of the top rides the ASO gets complaints about. "We see neck injuries, back injuries, bruised ribs, bitten lips, lost retainers and migraine headaches," Herrera says.

Being sprayed by hydraulic fluid
It's uncommon, but when cars slip their tracks, they can sever hydraulic lines, which, in a few instances, have spewed fluid on passengers.

Line jumpers and belligerent patrons
Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey and Six Flags America near Washington, D.C., are both known for an unruly clientele, Herrera says. Altercations tend to be over line-jumping or other minor incidents, though there was a shooting in the parking lot at Six Flags America in 2005.

Being hit by a cellphone or flying change
Despite lockers, ride-operator spiels and the best attempts of the amusement park industry to prevent it, stuff goes flying out of people's pockets and bags on rides. "We hear about more near-misses than people being struck," Herrera says.

Having to come back the next day for lost items
"It causes a big inconvenience when things land inside the ride area," says Steven Ball, the general manager of Frontier City in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "Maintenance has to come, we have to power the ride down. It's done the next morning when the park opens."

Coming back, in general
Another problem Ball sees is thrill-seekers who've been at the park all day or have season passes and start to disobey the rules (stand up, climb into unauthorized areas) in search of greater excitement. Remember, it's all fun and games till someone falls on the Bengal tiger.

More on Shine:
America's greatest amusement parks
7 kid friendly amusement parks
Disney theme parks loosen employee beard ban