Danger must be engineered out of amusement rides

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A 52-year-old woman’s tragic death while riding the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington last Friday has drawn widespread attention focused on one riveting question.

How could this happen?

Anyone who has ever been to Six Flags or a similar park (and that’s a lot of people) knows roller coasters are there for thrills. The impression of danger is part of the thrill, but modern rides like the Texas Giant are engineered to virtually eliminate real danger.

The Texas Giant originally opened in 1990 and reopened in 2011 after a $10 million renovation. Safety improvements were a key part of the redesign.

Plenty of us are reminded every time we get on one of these rides why we swore we’d never do that again. Plenty of others can’t wait to get back in line for another ride.

Six Flags, Arlington police and the Tarrant County Medical Examiner are still studying how Rosa Irene Ayala-Gaona, who also went by the last name Esparza, could have been thrown from her seat to a 75-foot fall and her death.

We all expect an answer to that question. Six Flags has closed the Texas Giant and has said it will not be reopened until the details of Friday’s accident are known and any needed corrections made.

Meanwhile, a sobering fact remains: While any death or injury at the park is too many, anyone who goes to Six Flags is in far more danger driving there than they will be on any of the thrill rides.

Friday’s death at the park was the first since 1999, when a 28-year-old Arkansas woman died and 10 other people were injured after a boat capsized on the Roaring Rapids ride.

Last year alone, there were 122 fatalities in 116 traffic accidents on Tarrant County roads, according to statistics reported by the Texas Department of Transportation. Another 6,283 people were seriously injured in 4,792 traffic accidents.

Early Wednesday, two adults and a baby died when their car was rear-ended and knocked into the path of a truck on Interstate 30 not far from Six Flags.

The danger of traffic accidents is real. The danger of amusement park thrill rides must always be only in the mind of the rider.

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