REUTERS: One in five parents don't talk to their kids about safety issues at amusement parks, especially what to do if they get lost, according to a poll by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
More than 30,000 children are injured each year at amusement parks and carnivals in the U.S., according to the Mott Poll report.
"Parents can take certain actions that can help to keep their children safe," said Dr. Gary Freed of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who co-directs the poll.
"Parents should have a plan with their child about what to do," Freed told Reuters Health by email. "Parents should make sure their child is properly restrained in any ride, and be aware of any improper actions on the part of ride operators."
The national survey is based on responses from more than 1,200 parents with at least one child between ages 5 and 12 in early 2018. About 82 percent said their child had been to an amusement park or carnival in the past three years, and 85 percent had accompanied their child.
Nearly 90 percent of parents said their child had to stay with them or another adult at all times, and 6 percent had set check-in times to make contact, either in person or by phone. About 79 percent said they talked with their child about what to do if they got lost or separated.
When children board rides at amusement parks or carnivals, 87 percent of parents said it was the responsibility of both parents and ride operators to make sure kids are safe. About 94 percent would "definitely" report a ride operator to authorities if they suspected the operator was drunk or on drugs. At the same time, 69 percent would "definitely" report a ride operator for not enforcing safety rules such as seat belts or height requirements, and 48 percent would "definitely" report a ride operator for using a cell phone while operating the ride.
When it comes to alcohol and drug testing of ride operators, about 59 percent of parents said they preferred random testing, 13 percent said weekly testing and 3 percent said yearly testing. About 11 percent thought checks should be done only when ride operators were suspected of drug or alcohol use.
"The discussion about amusement park safety is especially relevant now, since it is summer and a popular time for families to take a trip to an amusement park," said Connor Oehmke of the Southern Illinois University School of Law.
In April, Oehmke, who wasn't involved with the poll, called for national legislation regarding amusement park safety in the Journal of Legal Medicine.
"Being a ride operator carries a significant amount of responsibility for ensuring the safety of children," Oehmke said in an email. "In light of this heightened responsibility, I wrongly assumed that more parents would agree that random alcohol and drug testing should be required, since this seems like a reasonable safety precaution for this type of employment."
Younger children should be under consistent supervision to ensure they meet height requirements and understand safety rules, such as keeping hands away from safety latches, the authors of the poll report advise. Although older children may want more freedom to roam an amusement park, it's important to have a back-up plan, check-in time and instructions for what to do when they get lost, they add.
In particular, parents should know that training and supervision of ride operators vary by amusement park or carnival, the report authors write. Parents shouldn't assume that ride operators have been drug tested recently, for instance.
"Different states impose different requirements for amusement park ride operators," Oehmke said. "Therefore, some state regulations over amusement park safety are lenient, while other state regulations are more stringent. It all depends on what state you are in."