Unit 4: Social Studies Connection

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Thrills and Spills: Are Amusement Park Rides Safe?

Like other roller coaster riders, Peter Guerin and his brother Dave thought they were in for a thrill when they boarded Superman: The Ride of Steel. The giant roller coaster is in an amusement park in Massachusetts. It hurtles riders down the track at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

What the two brothers got, however, was more than thrills.

As the ride ended, the car the brothers were in sped up. "We came around the turn," said Peter, age 14. "I knew we were supposed to be stopping [but the car] kept on going." The car slammed into another car, injuring 43 people. "I think everybody else in the car was hurt," Dave added.

Spinning into Danger?

The accident Peter and Dave were involved in was one of many accidents in amusement parks in the summer of 2000. Here are a few of those mishaps.

  • Roller coaster cars collided at an amusement park in New Hampshire.
  • Riders were trapped on the Zoomerang roller coaster at a park in Connecticut for 90 minutes.
  • Some riders were trapped for up to five hours when a spinning ride called Chaos fell at a park in Michigan.

Those accidents, and many others, have officials at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission wondering whether amusement park rides are spinning, dropping, and throwing too many riders into hospitals.

"Amusement park rides are fun, fast, and thrilling," said Ann Brown of the Safety Commission. "They are supposed to create the illusion of danger, without putting people at risk. But the increased numbers of deaths and injuries tell a different story."

The Safety Commission says 10,579 people were injured on rides in 2000. That's 162 more than in 1999.

Safe Thrills

Bret Lovejoy, a spokesperson for amusement parks, disagrees with Brown. He says 315 million people visited amusement parks in 2000. Those people took 3.2 billion rides. Only a small fraction of those riders were injured.

"Amusement park rides have a long history of providing safe entertainment," Lovejoy said. Amusement park rides, he added, are "safer than walking down the street, safer than playing baseball, football, jumping on a trampoline, or driving a car."

Word Wise

mishap:
An unlucky accident: We performed the school play without any mishaps.

collide:
To slam or strike together: The two skaters collided.

consumer:
Someone who buys goods and services: American consumers are buying more lemonade this summer than last.

commission:
A group of people who are brought together to do a job or duty. The mayor formed a commission to plan the parade.

illusion:
Something that fools the senses; a mistaken idea. The magician was well-known for his clever tricks and illusions.

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Activity

Make a word web. Choose one of the words above, and write that word in the center of a piece of paper. Write down all of the words that you associate with the center word, and connect them to the center word with a line. You may use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you. Be sure to include different forms of the word in your word web.

Data Hunt

Thrills and Spills: Are Amusement Park Rides Safe? Quiz
Use a bar graph to answer questions about amusement park injuries.