Experts warn against assuming a ride is safe for unaccompanied children just because they meet the height requirement. But there are things parents can keep in mind to make a day at the fair, park or family entertainment center safer.
•Families should avoid rides with one-size-fits-all restraints and "make sure the restraint system fits their child," said Ken Martin, a Richmond, Va.-based safety consultant. Adjustable restraints may be easier to find on newer rides. Voluntary international standards published in 2003 call for them on many rides intended for children up to 12 years old.
•Parents of tall, slender children should be particularly careful "because they meet height requirements at a younger age and may have more freedom to reposition their body within a restraint," said Kathryn Woodcock, an associate professor at
University in Toronto, who has studied ride accidents.
•Adults should also keep in mind that not all children are old enough to accurately perceive danger. "If you believe your child is too young to safely cross the street on their own, then they're probably too young to ride an amusement ride alone," said Kathy Fackler, who founded the Colorado-based advocacy group Saferparks.
•Experts recommend that both parent and child watch the ride go through a full cycle before boarding; they say you should be wary of rides that travel out of view of onlookers and the ride operator.