Outdoor Pursuits

August 2nd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, scare stories, statistics | 1 Comment »

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Tuesday August 2, 2005
The Guardian

Doing publicity for roller coasters can’t be an easy job, even at the best of times. On one hand, you’re selling dangerousness and excitement; on the other, you don’t want people thinking they’re actually going to die. This was a bad summer for amusement parks: hardly a blood bath, but since it’s part of my job to sell fear, let’s
remember that Rita Queen of Speed at Alton Towers was blamed by one mum for breaking her daughter’s wrists, cars collided on Disneyland’s California Screamin’ injuring 14 people, and 5 more were injured when a rollercoaster carriage just lifted off its rails at Rhyl’s Ocean Beach Amusement Park.

It’s at this point that I’m supposed to interject with some perspective-granting figures culled (like the fact that Rhyl’s Ocean Beach Amusement Park was last in the news after it formed part of the alibi for James Hanratty on his way to the gallows in 1961) from the internet. So, according to the National Consumer Product Safety
Commission in the US, you get roughly one hospital visit for every 40,000 riders, and in the year 03/04 for the UK, there were 99 injuries in amusement parks and no deaths. Meanwhile, according to ROSPA there were 12,000 imjuries involving sewing or knitting equipment, 100 involving shutters, and 185 involving archways. Dare you saunter through the archway of death? And according to Mark Wheeler, senior press officer at the HSE: “the risk of being killed as a pedestrian walking to or from the amusement park is about 12 times the risk of being killed on a ride given an average session of 7 rides.” The risk of riding a bike to work, which of course I do, is even higher. And when a cyclist dies, nobody writes about it.

Am I feeling reassured? No. I’ve been going to Oakwood Leisure Park in Pembrokeshire with my family since I was 8. I’m 31 now, by the way. The Hydro ride is 121 ft tall. You sit in a boat that drops down a near-vertical chute into a plunge pool at 50 miles an hour. It’s very scary. Last summer, just as the ride was about to drop
gracefully and inexorably from its highest point, onlookers saw a 16 year old girl fall out of the carriage and drop through the sky to her death. No way am I getting on that. I’m sorry. And I’m still riding my bike in London. And if I die as a result, I’d at least hope that the irony of having written this article beforehand qualifies me for half a column inch.


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