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Amusement park, mall rides injuring thousands of U.S. kids each year

When parents fish for loose change during a trip to the mall so their kid can ride in a mechanical pony or car, the last thing on their minds may be that the seemingly innocent machine can put their child at risk for a major injury.

However, a new study that tracked child injuries on rides found kids who use "mall rides" may face a higher risk of head, neck or face injuries or concussions.

The study tracked child injuries that occurred on rides found in amusement parks, fairs, festivals, arcades, restaurants, stores and malls. Researchers found more than 4,400 ride-related injuries send kids to U.S. emergency rooms each year, many of which occurred outside of traditional amusement park settings.

"Injuries from smaller amusement rides located in malls, stores, restaurants and arcades are typically given less attention by legal and public health professionals than injuries from larger amusement park rides, yet our study showed that in the U.S. a child is treated in an emergency department, on average, every day for an injury from an amusement ride located in a mall, store, restaurant or arcade," study author Dr. Gary Smith, a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, said in a press release. "We need to raise awareness of this issue and determine the best way to prevent injuries from these types of rides."

Researchers measured the number of ride-related injuries that occurred between 1990 and 2010 for the study published May 1 in Clinical Pediatrics. They found nearly 93,000 children and adolescents under the age of 18 were treated in U.S. emergency rooms because of ride-related injuries over those two decades.

More than 70 percent of these injuries occur when its warm -- from May through September -- amounting to about 20 injuries a day during the summer months.

Most injuries were the result of a fall -- about 32 percent of all injuries reported over the 20-year span - followed by 18 percent caused by being hit by something while riding or hitting a part of the body on the ride.

Head and neck injuries were most common (28 percent of ride-related injuries), followed by injuries to the arms (24 percent), face (18 percent), legs (17 percent). Soft-tissue injuries like bruises were most common, followed by sprains, cuts and broken bones. Serious injuries requiring hospitalization were relatively rare, however during the summer months one occurred about every three days.

Almost three-quarters of injuries on mall rides occurred when a child fell. Some of these mall rides may be found on hard surfaces like pavement or many not have child restraints, the researchers said.

Smith pointed out that there isn't the same regulation across the board for child rides whether its at an amusement park - known as "fixed-site rides" - or at a fair or festival ("mobile rides") or whether its found at an arcade, strip mall or restaurant ("mall rides"). For example, the federal government's U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees mobile rides that are set up at fairs throughout the country, however state or local governments regulate fixed-rides at amusement parks. The researchers found 33 percent of injuries occurred on a fixed-site ride, followed by 29 percent on mobile rides and 12 percent on mall rides.

"A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards," said Smith, who also serves as director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

He urges parents follow safety tips that include:

  • Always following all posted height, age, weight and health restrictions.
  • Making sure to follow any special seating order and/or loading instructions.
  • Always using safety equipment such as seat belts and safety bars.
  • Keeping your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.
  • Knowing your child: If you don't think he/she will follow the rules, keep him/her off the ride.
  • Trust your instincts: If you are worried about the ride's safety, choose another activity.
  • Avoid "mall rides" if they are over a hard, unpadded surface or if they don't have a seat belt.

The new study is the latest to warn parents about troublesome injury trends involving their children's playtime activties.

Smith's team also released a study in November 2012 looking at a "growing epidemic" of injuries caused by inflatable bounce houses, castles and moonwalks. Months earlier, a study in Pediatrics discouraged kids against using trampolines because of risks for serious injury.

Colleen Mangone of the ride industry group, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, told USA Today her organization reviewing the report. She noted that 300 million people visit U.S. amusement parks each year. "Injuries are rare, especially in the context of the tremendous number of rides given each year," she said. "The likelihood of being seriously injured (defined as requiring overnight hospitalization) on a permanently located amusement park ride in the U.S. is 1 in 24 million."