Limitations of Saferparks Accident Data
Users Should Remain Aware of the Limitations Inherent in this Data
The Saferparks Database is a collection of safety-related information from various sources and perspectives compiled into a centralized, searchable database. The aggregate data from the Saferparks Database provides insight into the causes and patterns of ride-related injury, but it should not be taken as a statistically-robust data source.
Saferparks accident data varies widely in content and consistency
Less than half of the U.S. states have provided accident data in response to Saferparks' FOIA requests, and many of those states were unable to send a full accounting of all accidents reported to the agency each year. The types of devices covered under reporting laws and the types of incidents required to be publicly reported change from state to state, and sometimes year to year within the same state when regulations change.
The number of accident reports in a category depend on many variables unrelated to rider safety
These include: popularity of the ride type, regulatory inclusions/exclusions, local government record retention and public disclosure policies, and individual corporate record keeping policies.
States with stronger government oversight will tend to produce more accident reports
States that carefully monitor a broad range of safety incidents, have efficient data management systems, and provide a transparency to the public will, by definition, produce a higher number of public accident reports. This is, paradoxically, an indicator of more attention to safety, not less.
- For example, New Jersey has a lot of amusement parks, provides easy access to safety records records, and has the most inclusive public accident reporting requirements in the nation. This produces an effective government accident prevention program and, as by-product, a high number of public accident records. The vast majority of those records describe minor incidents. Cumulatively, they can be used to spot and correct conditions that, if ignored, might lead to serious problems down the road.
- By contrast, parks in unregulated states have completely clean public records, but there's no reliable way for consumers to know how safe riders really are. Privatizing critical safety information also eliminates the opportunity to use use lessons learned for the improvement of safety across all all rides in all parks in all states.
- Given the grossly uneven nature of public accountability for this industry in the U.S., a count of reported accidents cannot and should not be correlated to the level of risk at a particular park or in a particular state.
The Saferparks' accident data set may not reliably predict nation-wide or industry-wide patterns
The relative frequencies of certain types of accidents on certain types of equipment may not accurately reflect the aggregate safety records of all amusement devices in the United States. For example:
- State laws require that go-kart accidents be reported in Florida, but not in California. Thrill ride accidents at theme parks must be reported in California, but not in Florida. Therefore, records from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture will tend to show a higher percentage of go-kart accidents and a lower percentage of roller coaster accidents than is accurate for that state. California's records are skewed in the opposite direction.
- Some states supplied records dating back a decade or more, while other states' records cover only a year or two. Texas provided records covering 22 years. Florida's records for carnivals and small parks span 17 years. New Jersey provided 9 years of data encompassing the broadest reporting criteria of any state. Those three states also have a large number of amusement parks as compared with most other states, which accounts for the higher proportion of accident reports from those states within the database.
- Neck/back/head injuries associated with the normal motion of aggressive thrill rides are likely to be under-reported to state safety agencies because of the way in which those injuries generally present (i.e., there may not be obvious visual evidence of the injury immediately following the event, and medical aid is often delayed until the pain persists for several days). NEISS hospital ER records tend to skew in the opposite direction, showing relatively more motion-related injuries compared to acute trauma resulting from machinery accidents.
Frequency doesn't necessarily correlate to importance
The tables and graphs provided tend to highlight safety issues that occur most frequently, but there may be failure categories that deserve more urgent attention in terms of prevention. For example, equipment failures and serious passenger containment failures (i.e., ejection/falls or hands/feet outside during ride cycle) occur far less frequently than whiplash or slide-and-bang injuries, but the potential consequences of structural collapse or a child falling out of a moving amusement ride can be catastrophic.