New spin on roller coaster danger

Brain injuries: Skull jostling may cause more harm to riders than gravitational forces, study reports.

Medicine & Science

March 03, 2003|By Andy Netzel | Andy Netzel,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Most people who ride roller coasters will not suffer brain injuries, but more research is needed before the popular amusement rides can be declared safe, according to a new study released in Washington last week.

Findings of the study, commissioned by the Brain Injury Association of America, suggest the skull jostling that riders experience on roller coasters is more dangerous than the gravitational forces that some states seek to regulate.

Gravitational forces, or g-forces, are the invisible force pushing down on riders as they are propelled through sharp turns and steep plunges.

The report appears to support findings from other studies, including one published last year in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Robert Braksiek, writing in the journal in January 2002, spotlighted the possible link between fast-moving, hard-turning roller coasters and brain injuries.

Since then, Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime advocate of amusement park safety, has pushed for more intensive studies and legislation that would end the industry's exemption from federal oversight.

David Meaney, a scientist who worked on the brain injury group's study, said legislators should focus on reducing violent head movements rather than trying to regulate g-force pressures.

To have better data to study, the report suggested creating a national reporting system handled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, reporting standards on roller coaster injuries are determined by individual states, although eight states do not have any requirements.

Coaster industry representatives and proponents of new safety measures both said they were pleased with the new study's results.

"All available science proves that parks and rides are safe," said Clark Robinson, the president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

"G-forces on roller coasters are no greater than those experienced after a sneeze or when using a pogo stick."

Michael Freeman, a researcher who helped the brain injury group with its study, said such comparisons are "ridiculous."

"If a roller coaster provided no more accelerative thrill than rolling over in bed, plopping down in a chair or stepping off of a curb, it is hard to imagine that amusement parks would be the multibillion-dollar business they are today," he said.

Freeman said no credible studies exist that prove roller coasters are safe.

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