Taking the Kids and the Dangers of Riding Roller Coasters

theme parkHorrific. Every family's worst nightmare. A Dallas mom, Rosa Ayala-Goana, fell to her death while riding the 14-story-tall Texas Giant roller coaster with her kids at Six Flags Over Texas last weekend.

"My mom! My mom! Let us out, we need to go get her!" her daughter and son reportedly screamed as their car came to a stop just after 6:30 p.m. on July 19, the New York Daily News reported.

The ride - the tallest steel-wood hybrid coaster in the world at 153 feet high - is closed, and Six Flags is investigating how such a tragedy could have happened - how someone apparently could have fallen off when they were supposed to be safely restrained. Witnesses on the ride told reporters that Ayala-Goana questioned the restraint system when she boarded. They said they saw her "fly off," according to www.rideaccidents.com. The Dallas News reported it was the woman's first visit to Six Flags Over Texas, the first amusement park in the Six Flags system.

It's important to remember that, as awful as this is, fatalities or even injuries are not common on theme park rides.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the chance of being seriously injured on a ride at a fixed-site park in the United States is one in 24 million; only 61 of the 1,415 ride-related injuries reported in 2011 (less than 5 percent) required overnight hospital treatment.

Deaths are far more rare. The chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 750 million. (You can read the National Safety Council's report on theme park injuries here.) The number of injuries has dropped significantly in the past decade, the report said.

Of course, that's no consolation to anyone who is injured or killed.

Coincidentally, the same day that Ayala-Goana died, seven people were injured at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, when a ride malfunctioned.

We go to theme parks - and we pay a lot for the privilege - to have fun. We expect to be safe. IAAPA likes to remind us that 297 million guests visit 400 U.S. amusement parks every year and take 1.7 billion safe rides.

But maybe being in vacation mode makes us too complacent. Earlier this summer, NBC News reported on a new study based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System that tracked 20 years of injuries. About 20 kids a day are hurt on rides in the peak season, said Dr. Gary A. Smith, who conducted research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Most of the injuries are not serious, but about 67 kids a year are injured badly enough to be hospitalized, according to an analysis of the data.

That's not the way any of us want to end our theme park day.

"In the past, the discussion has always been on roller-coaster injuries and the bigger rides," Smith told NBC News. "The message here is that these injuries occur across a broad spectrum of types of rides and across many locations." That includes injuries on rides at malls, stores, restaurants and arcades, which accounted for nearly 12 percent of the injuries reported.

I think that, whether we are at a big theme park or an arcade, we have to take more responsibility for our family's safety. If we think there is something wrong with the restraint system, we shouldn't just take a young park worker's word for it that we are safe - we should get off the ride!

IAAPA says most injuries occur because guests don't follow the posted safety guidelines or because they ride with a pre-existing medical condition that was aggravated by the ride. That's why it is key for kids - and especially teens - to understand that these rules are in place for an important reason, to keep them safe:

-- Obey listed age, height, weight and health restrictions. That means you shouldn't let your kids stand on tiptoe to meet the height requirement.

-- Keep hands, arms, legs and feet inside the ride at all times.

-- Remain seated in the ride until it comes to a complete stop and you are instructed to exit.

-- Always use safety equipment provided and never attempt to wriggle free of or loosen restraints or other safety devices.

-- Parents with young children should make sure that their children can understand safe and appropriate ride behavior.

Most important, never force anyone - adults or kids - to ride attractions they don't want to ride. You're there to have fun, after all.

For more about kids and theme parks, go to www.takingthekids.com.

(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)