Rides May Lack Child Restraints

Boy in elephant ride

Effective restraints are not mandatory on most amusement rides approved for use by small children

Amusement rides operated in the United States are not required to provide child-safe restraints for young riders. 

  • Rides designed prior to 2003 are exempt from compliance with modern safety standards.
  • Kiddie rides designed after 2003 are required to have a fully enclosed carrier or some kind of latching or locking restraint that fits closely against the largest rider in the car.
  • Full-sized rides designed after 2003 must have a restraint and containment analysis, but individually-fitted restraints are only required the highly dynamic rides.  Full-sized rides intended for use by adults and young children together (called "family rides") often have lap restraints that fit adults, but not child riders.

Slow rides can be more dangerous than mega-coasters

Ferris wheels and gondola wheels move slowly, but carry riders almost to great heights and have minimal restraints at best. Many designs have no restraints at all.  Despite the obvious child safety hazards, the manufacturer's recommended minimum height limits may allow children as young as 4-years-old to ride alone. Operators are not required to post any warnings to parents about the lack of restraints or the deadly fall hazard.

Young children who become frightened tend to run for mommy or daddy, even if they're on a moving amusement ride at the time.  Children who feel perfectly safe when a ride is moving may panic when the ride stops and try to climb out, even if the car is high off the ground.

Lap bars and over-the-shoulder harnesses can leave too much wiggle room for small children

Young children are vulnerable to falling or being thrown off rides if the restraints fit poorly.

  • Some containment designs allow children at the lower end of the allowable range to easily slip out of the restraint. Many industry-standard restraints are designed so they don't touch the body of a small child rider, much less provide effective restraint against the forces of motion.
  • Some ride designs rely on the riders' ability to brace themselves with their feet or grab handholds in anticipation of a curve or drop.  Small children often can't reach the floor of the car with their feet on a full-sized ride, and may not have the knowledge or skill to safely brace themselves.

Children who just barely meet the height limit, children who are taller than average for their age, or children who are thinner than average for their height, may be more vulnerable to this kind of accident.

Parents are an important part (sometimes the only part) of the ride's restraint system for young children

Young children are able to unlatch many commonly used ride restraints fairly easily, and some rides approved for use by young children don't have any restraints at all. If you're going to allow toddlers and preschoolers to ride alone, even on very small rides, look for rides with more securely-fitted restraints. The same goes for older children (ages five through eight or nine) on rides with significant fall heights, rides with strong spinning forces, or rides with rapid changes in direction. 

While close-fitting restraints are more likely to keep a toddler inside a ride than a loose-fitting lap bar or a clamped-off piece of clothesline, they are not foolproof. 

  • Ride along with your child until you feel he understands and can anticipate the loading, unloading, ride action, and what to do if the ride stops unexpectedly.  
  • Teach your child about amusement ride safety in the same repetitive, patient way you teach him about bike safety or traffic safety or water safety.

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