Opinion: We need perspective when it comes to accidents

Posted Tuesday, August 1, 2006 9:10 AM | Contributed by GregLeg

Yes, when it comes to things such as the annual one to eight deaths each year on amusement park rides, it's easy to feel uneasy. In news stories, three items make a trend. Because all ride accidents make headlines — for instance, the recent death of an 8-year-old boy who had just ridden the Fireball at the annual Ionia Free Fair in Michigan on July 22 — we start to wonder: Are we safe? Should the government do something about deadly rides?

Well, in a word, no. Or at least not until governments address the really dangerous things in our lives, such as furniture or bathtubs. Indeed, despite the approximately 175 million visits we paid to North America's most popular parks last year, park rides kill fewer people than such freak things as igniting or melting nightwear, hot tap water and venomous spiders.

Read more from USA Today.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:22 AM
Yay for USA Today for writing this article! :)
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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:24 AM
Rihard's avatar Wow! This article made my day. What a refreshing change from the over sensationalized news reporting that is often found.

Give this lady a Pulitzer.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 11:14 AM
That is a great article; puts things in perspective (hence the name, I suppose).

I also like that Baruch Fischoff was interviewed. I work for CMU computing, and I fixed his computer last week. :)

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 11:30 AM
Nice to see some perspective. And she makes some VERY good points, especially when she compared amusement park deaths to railroad crossing deaths- rare occurance vs everyday event, national news vs local story. But I HAVE to ask...melting underwear?? Whaaa--?*** This post was edited by ilovethewildone 8/1/2006 11:34:24 AM ****** This post was edited by ilovethewildone 8/1/2006 11:34:57 AM ***
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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 11:34 AM
So why all the media hype? People get injured in bowling allies, but you wouldn't know it. The media seems to focus on these things out of habit.

When poorly maintained county rides got media attention I think it served a purpose. The fair would pack up and move to another location leaving the public concern behind them, while still running unsafe rides.

Parks that can't pack up and leave I think do work very hard to prevent accidents because they cannot escape negative media attention. So when they do happen, its rare and its news. Unfortunately what is not reported is how many millions safety experience the ride before the freak accident. Freak accidents always get media attention; like "Man hit by lightening!"

I think another reason the media focuses on this is the constant question of: "are these rides safe?" Most people looking at thrill rides these days have that question running through their heads. A reporter visiting a park asks the same question. All they need is a reason to make it into a story.

When heart attacks or strokes happen on these rides, they make it into this big deal. As if we could not have predicted some fraction of a percent of people would have been adversely effected by extreme thrills. Or that increased heart rates for those who are not typically active may lead to a stroke or heart attack. Thrill rides provide everyone the opportunity to experience extreme thrills, even for those who rarely experience heart pumping activities.

Its like if a guy who has never ran a step in his life runs a mile around as fast as he can, then suddenly has a heart attack; what newspaper would even bother with that story?

Responsible reporting should focus more on questions like, "Is a healthy heart a prerequisite for heart pounding activities?" or "Do some people need to be conditioned before experiencing extreme thrills? Instead the media suggests thrill rides cause poor health or heart attacks.

I think articles like this one are important. Many more are needed to balance out the media coverage. The article I'll be waiting for is the one on the media's obsession with injuries that occur at amusement parks.*** This post was edited by rc-madness 8/1/2006 12:27:32 PM ***

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 12:17 PM
janfrederick's avatar Yah, but washing your hands isn't as exciting as riding a thrill ride. Excitement sells newspapers...plain and simple.

That being said, I'm glad they published this. It's about time.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 12:53 PM
Very interesting article; I would never have expected to see an article from that perspective from a media outlet such as USA Today. Bravo, Ms. Vanderkam.

Regardless whether we all think the jobs of news organizations should be simply to report the news, there is a more important job that drives every story you see, read, or hear - the job of keeping the organization alive and making some money.

People want to hear about amusement rides failing. Stories don't get more sensational than, say, the Son of Beast incident. Every time a guest hops onto a coaster, he or she is overwhelmed with fear. While this may be a selling point of the ride, it also happens to be a large cause of why accidents get so much national attention. When a rider is terrified, he or she honestly believes the ride is a life-or-death, extreme sport, living on the edge experience. When a news outlet reports this, riders will jump to the news because of the simple fact that the story will prove the rider's suspicions correct.

Now, this isn't to say that the injuries or deaths of some riders are trivial. This also isn't saying that all news coverage simply uses the stories for a attention-pulling (and, therefore, cash-pulling) headline, but let's face it: more often than not, that's exactly what these stories are used for.

That said, there are certain places where accidents like this should be covered so extensively. One example is right here on CoasterBuzz. Another more important example would be a site like SaferParks.org, mentioned in last weeks podcast. My point is that these reports shouldn't disappear, but they certainly should retire their headline status at organizations such as MSNBC, CNN, or NY Times.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 2:21 PM
coasterqueenTRN's avatar Great article! It really hits the nail on the head. The media thrives on creating fear among the public. Fear sells, just like sex. Thousands of people die everyday in car accidents, and nobody really thinks about it unless it's something that happened in their neighborhood.

A friend of mine who is scared of rollercoasters is always reminding me of these accident reports and news stories. She thinks I am suicidal for going to parks all the time. She actually believes what the media shows and tells her. I keep telling her that she is 1000 times more likely to die in a car accident than on a rollercoaster. Hell, I am 1000 times more likely to get struck by a car crossing the road to my mailbox! I am 1000 times more likely to slip in the bathtub while taking a shower!

She doesn't believe me. Anyway, that is a very truthful article and I am glad it was published.

-Tina

*** This post was edited by coasterqueenTRN 8/1/2006 2:23:07 PM ***

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 2:44 PM
Media follows a template as predictable as the index on the bottom left corner of your newspaper. Everyday there is some international bad news, what's happening in the stock market, law breakers, funny people or animal story and then the freak accident. When they run out of shark attacks or lightening strikes they target amusement parks, because somebody somewhere got hurt trying to have some fun. Reminds me of Mad-Libs; just fill in the blanks.

It would be interesting to see how many more people get hurt in public parks. I bet it is statistically safer to play at amusement parks.

And amusement parks can't show how ticked off they are on the bad press because that just draws more negative attention. They just have to take the hits regardless of how unjustified the attention is. At least it helps keep parks a little less crowded.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 5:08 PM
I caught it today in the paper leafing through it on my lunch break. Im in the same boat as Tina because i hear it all the time from my managers at work. They tell me how unsafe they are and i always reply with the familiar your more at risk to die going to the park than riding a ride.

Truth be told my one manager is at Islands of Adventure this week, with his wife and son riding rides, so go figure.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 7:41 PM
Perspective and news in the same sentence...say it isn't so. I would opine more...but I have to go turn up my air conditioner. You know...global warming and all! :-)
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Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:33 PM
Whenever someone starts questioning the safety of roller coasters around me I tell them what I heard on a TLC show a number of years ago. I don't know if it's true, but it said that going to an amusement park and going on ten roller coasters is twice as safe as staying at home for the same length of time!
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Wednesday, August 2, 2006 10:46 AM
WOAH. 8 Accidents on coaster's a year. More then half of them are the rider's stupidity by not reading the sign. 8 Coaster deaths vs. the 20,000 Car accident deaths... Whats more safe? Oh yeah, thats right... AMUSEMENT PARKS.:)
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Wednesday, August 2, 2006 11:02 AM
janfrederick's avatar

You know...global warming and all! :-)

Hey, it's not so bad, Phoenix will end up the tropical paradise you've always wanted to live in. Then, when the heat isn't so "dry" anymore, maybe they'll finally build a park there. ;)

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