Roller Coasters Can Be Fun and Safe if Guidelines Are Followed

Roller coasters are fun, but come with potential health risks for some riders

“The speed and forces that make roller coasters so much fun also are the potential causes of injury in susceptible riders,” said Adam Phillips, physician assistant on the Trauma Team at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

As described on Lagoon’s website, “Cannibal lifts riders 208 feet and plunges them into a 116° beyond vertical free-fall into an underground tunnel. Cannibal is Lagoon’s most thrilling ride, including a 140 foot tall inverted loop and water feature. Riders travel up to 70 mph over 2,735 feet and through 3 inversions.”

While that experience may sound fun to many people, it’s important to remember there are serious forces at work. As people walk around earth, they experience “normal” gravity (i.e. 1 G). On high-intensity roller coasters, the G-forces may briefly exceed 4 Gs. Cannibal actually reaches 4.2 Gs.

To put that in perspective, Space Shuttle occupants experienced around 3.5 Gs (sustained) on takeoff and re-entry. A fighter pilot may experience upwards of 8-10 Gs of force temporarily. People often black out around 5 Gs of force.

Phillips said these forces put significant strain on riders’ musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Four Gs of force means a rider’s head now weighs four times what it normally does. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and discs throughout the body must support four times the weight they do at rest.

Healthy riders can most likely withstand these forces without any problems. In fact, most healthy individuals rarely experience new injuries due to these significant forces. However, those with pre-existing conditions may not be able to handle the added stress.

“People with pre-existing issues in their muscles or bones or cardiovascular system are already prone to have injuries exacerbated. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to follow the safety guidelines posted for Cannibal or other similar rides,” said Phillips.

According to the “Fun and Safety Guide Sign” for Cannibal, the ride is not recommended for pregnant women or anyone with heart trouble, high blood pressure, back/neck/bone injuries or recent surgery or illness. Guests less than 48 inches may not ride and due to the design of the seat restraints, exceptionally large or tall individuals may not be able to ride.

 

“The engineering and safety restraint systems of commercial amusement park rides are highly regulated and regularly inspected. Most of the time, accidents have to do with human error or rider noncompliance with safety rules. Follow the rules and you’ll enjoy the ride,” Phillips said.