Are Roller Coasters Safe?

From 1987 to 1999, there were 49 documented fatalities in U.S. amusement parks, according to the CPSC.

In 1981, when coasters were regulated by the CPSC, they may have done loops, but none shot out of the gate using linear induction motors. The older models didn't have several inversions, they weren't over 300 feet tall, and they didn't near 93 mph. According to the CPSC, the number of injuries severe enough to send victims to the emergency room leaped from 2,400 in 1994 to 4,500 in 1998.

A total of 42 states currently adhere to regular inspections. The other states either don't have amusement parks (North Dakota and Montana) or rely on self-regulated inspections or local municipalities.

"The industry constantly performs tests and studies to see how a rider will experience a technology," said Susie Storey, spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "As an industry we are already highly regulated and we see federal regulation as an added layer of bureaucracy that would not benefit anyone."

The federal oversight issue applies only to amusement and theme parks in fixed locations. The CPSC has jurisdiction over traveling carnivals, so mechanical problems at one carnival can be quickly reported to operators elsewhere.

Most Popular Attraction

Markey says the increasing number of new coasters that reach phenomenal speeds and subject riders to G-forces of up to 5 means there needs to be federal oversight.

"Some of these rides now reach speeds of 100 mile per hour and forces greater than astronauts are trained to endure on the space shuttle," Markey said.

"As these rides get higher, faster, and more technologically sophisticated, the potential for unforeseen catastrophe rises as well. We need to ensure that our capacity to protect against unreasonable risks is not outstripped by our desire to experience new thrills," he said.

In fact, coaster enthusiasts say, the G-forces of some coasters (up to about 5) are only felt for a few seconds. And part of the fun, they say, is the G-force, negative and positive.

"It's the air time — the negative gravity you feel when you are lifted off your seat and you feel the action all the way through the ride that makes for a great coaster," said Bill Linkenheimer, president of the group American Coaster Enthusiast. "I'm not at all concerned about safety."

Last year, more than 50 roller coasters opened worldwide.

"They are definitely one of the most popular attractions," said Storey.

But are they safe?

"Visiting a park is one of the safest thing we can do," Storey said. "For over 20 years safety has been the No. 1 priority with us and people keep coming because they know they are going to have a safe and happy time."

ABCNEWS' Lisa Stark contributed to this report.

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