Odd obsession with deaths on roller coasters

Something needs to lead the newspaper or TV newscast, even on a slow news day.

Perhaps that accounts for how the death of a single woman on a roller coaster in Texas Friday became the lead story on at least two TV network news broadcasts Saturday night.

Then again, there are certain events, like airline accidents, that seem to fascinate the public and get way more attention than their actual threat to public safety merits.

The accidental death of a single person is disturbing and sad. But in a nation of 330 million people, we all run the risk of accidental death every day.

That, however, doesn't stop us from riding (and dying) in cars and on motorcycles, or from swimming — three activities that are far, far more dangerous than riding a roller coaster.

Yet when a woman fell from a roller coaster Friday, the national news media focused like a laser on the incident. 

What's known is that the woman boarded the 14-story Texas Giant on Friday and, at some point, fell to her death.

One TV network found what it called a roller coaster expert who said the accident shows that we have no single set of national standards for roller coaster safety, but instead a "patchwork" of standards from state to state.

Worse, the "expert" pointed out, Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington was in charge of figuring out what happened, then proving to state inspectors the ride was safe to re-open.

This was, you guessed it, like allowing the "fox to guard the hen house."

Something, the expert said, must be done.

May we suggest this: Find the people who build and operate roller coasters and ask them to help make the rest of the world's activities so safe.

The numbers vary depending on what's counted as a roller coaster ride and where it's located, but there are between 300 million and 900 million roller coaster rides taken each year.

The variation in number depends upon whether we count just big, stand-alone amusement parks like Six Flags, or add local carnivals and roller coasters inside casinos and shopping malls.

Out of all those hundreds of millions of rides given, there are an average of two deaths per year — and that includes all those fools riding down the big hills waving their hands in the air.

While roller coasters are built and advertised as death-defying, the actual odds of dying on one are remarkably long. The amusement park industry says there are actually more injuries each year on the merry-go-round rides with people tripping or kids (or adults) slipping off the animals.

As you can see, an average of two deaths per year on 300 million rides means 1 death per 150 million rides.

The odds become even longer if you accept one of the larger estimates for the total number of rides.

According to the website asktheodds.com, the odds of winning a multi-state lottery are about 1 in 120 million.

Another remarkably safe activity: Flying on a commercial airline, particularly in the U.S.

Four people killed recently on a Korean jet landing in San Francisco were the first commercial airline deaths in the U.S. since 2009.

That's amazing considering there are 30,000 flights crisscrossing the U.S. each day, bearing more than two million passengers to their destinations.

Before that accident, the death risk for airline passengers in the U.S. was one death per 45 million trips.

Air travel and roller coaster riding give us the sensation of being very risky, even when they are not. Perhaps, when a person does die, it's like an ah-ha moment: See it really isn't safe!

Many of us participate in much riskier activities every day, like smoking, taking drugs, not wearing seat belts, driving while intoxicated, talking on a cell phone while driving or riding a motorcycle.

But other seemingly safe activities are far more dangerous than flying in an airliner or riding a roller coaster.

We seldom think about dying of a hornet, wasp or bee sting, yet our lifetime odds of dying that way are 1 in 71,623.

Exposure to excessive natural heat? You stand one chance in 11,111 of checking out that way.

In a macabre twist, we statistically stand one chance in about 80,000 of being legally executed in your lifetime. The odds of that happening are nearly non-existent in Maine, where there is no death penalty, but much better in Texas where slightly fewer than 50 people died that way last year.

Clearly, what becomes news doesn't necessarily reflect the reality of a pressing problem, even if one expert says it does.

When it comes to spending time and energy, we would all be better off doing mundane things, like wearing seat belts on the way to riding the roller coaster.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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AL PELLETIER's picture

Not news worthy.

Fall out after the Zimmerman trial, comments by Sharpton and Jackson, some baby born in England, another dumb comment from our governor and some women falling from a roller coaster.
Glad I've got the weather channel!


Having worked around

Having worked around amusement rides for a number of years, I must say the rides are inspected on a daily (and sometimes more often) basis. The ride operators know what to watch for while running the rides and in most cases accidents occur when people riding the ride do not follow the rules or instructions of the operators. When the public decide they know better then the ride operators accidents will happen. There are safety belts for a reason, when the operator checks that they are securely fastened leave them that way. When your child is not allowed on the ride because of height requirements, don't argue about it. There is a reason for the height requirements. When you are told there is a weight limit and you know you are over that limit don't lie to the operator and tell them you are under the limit. When a ride operator tells you to walk then do so. The public can help prevent accidents if they would follow the rules and not break them. Ride operators can only do so much. The other thing....as your children grow don't just allow them to run around carnivals and amusement parks without adult supervision. Groups of unsupervised teens have more accidents then groups of supervised teens.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I love roller coasters........

In high school, I worked at a club on Nantasket Beach down in Massachusetts. It was a concert club open daily. I had a friend who worked next door at the legendary Roller coaster at the amusement park. He used to think my job was dangerous, I was convinced his job was much scarier. Those guys had to inspect every inch of those tracks every day. They would walk on this little walk way along the side of the track and look for any problems. I guess my fear of falling made those inspections seem much more deadly than routing a couple of drunk concert goers. Those guys took safety very seriously. Of the hundreds of times I've ridden that ride, I never once felt nervous. Of course they always used to say, humans are the biggest risk to their own safety. Some people go out of their way to push the boundaries of safety, and they are the most difficult to protect......

Steve  Dosh's picture

Odd obsession with deaths on roller coasters

Rex, 13.07.22 19:30 hst
. It's all just a , " There by the grace of God go us ," fascination , that's all
It's like Cleveland , OH
We ain't n e v e r going to live there ( or Detroit for that matter ) !.
Ever try the Yankee Cannonball at Canobie Lake Park in Salem , NH ?
It's an old wooden and creaky roller coaster
Highly recommended ? And the corkscrew , too . Cheaper after 5 pm •  http://www.canobie.com/ Dare ya' . Double dare
/s , Steve and ohana :D


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