Disney death raises thrill ride safety concerns

Height restrictions, signs used to protect riders

June 19, 2005|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - For Orlando's famed attractions, finding a balance between excitement and safety is critical.

The death of 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye on Monday after a ride on Mission: Space at Walt Disney World's Epcot immediately raised questions not only about the ride's safety, but also about how to judge what thrills are right for young visitors.

Amusement-industry experts say that Disney, Universal Orlando and other parks spend years developing and testing rides, designing equipment that seldom causes problems.

"Everything they can anticipate, they anticipate," said Bill Coan, a president of ITEC Entertainment Corp. and a former Disney executive.

However, as safe as rides might be for fit adults, there are people, including young children, who might suffer ill effects. As a safety measure, the parks set height restrictions for would-be passengers, and they post signs advising those with medical conditions to avoid rides that might pose risks.

Theme parks use height restrictions such as the 44-inch minimum imposed on Mission: Space passengers to prevent children from boarding inappropriate rides. Those limits weed out small children. However, Coan said, parents need to make their own judgments.

Beth Robertson, spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, said injury is very rare throughout her industry.

"Last year, 300 million guests took 1.5 billion rides," Robertson said. "The chance of being fatally injured is one in 790 million."

Robertson said amusement-park-ride designers adhere to safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. She said safety standards include passenger-height limits, restraints and gravitational forces created when the ride is in motion.

Forty-two states, including Florida, have laws pertaining to amusement-park safety, Robertson said.

"Disney rides get daily safety checks, daily maintenance, daily everything," said Steve Baker, principal of Baker Leisure Group in Orlando. "In the area of safety, they are the best in the business."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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