This week, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Six Flags Magic Mountain have placed new seat belt restraints on three of their coasters that previously ran with only a lap bar restraint, apparently as a proactive safety precaution. The move was NOT part of a directive or order by CalOSHA, as previously speculated by several amusement park fan sites.
“It was not a mandate from the State of California. Cal/OSHA was told that Six Flag’s (sic) corporate office made the decision,” said Peter Melton, a spokesperson for the Department of Industrial Relations via an e-mail.
After the unfortunate incident at Six Flags Over Texas, you had to expect there was going to be changes to operations and seat design. Although, I know I speak for many fans in the community when I say, “This might be a bit excessive, especially considering the lack of incidents on the three known coasters to get the seat belt additions.”
The parks now do not allow riders to lower their lap bars, as originally reported by The Coaster Guy yesterday. This is to ensure the seat belts are all fastened and fitting. If a lap bar is brought down, attendants must reopen the entire train and repeat the process.
Those who have ridden the rides with the seat belts are already seeing significantly increased dispatch times (longer waits) and some have even reported pain due to the protrusion of the seat belts into their lower abdomens.
“Cal/OSHA inspected the seat belts after they were installed and found them satisfactory,” Melton said in his e-mail.
While the dispatch times will improve as guests and employees adapt to and refine the new policy, the belts also provide a much easier way for employees to gauge if a rider is too large to ride.
However, the reported “pinching” action of the seat belts against the lower abdomen and lap bar does beg the question, “Are these ‘improvements’ actually going to cause more rider problems than they were intended to solve?”
We shall see if this is a chain-wide mandate when the new season begins in spring. That’s when the seasonal parks will be reopen for their season. For now, only the two year-round parks on the west coast have confirmed seat belt installations.
This story was originally broken by CGA Insider, when they visited Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and spotted the alterations.
Inversions (or loops) on rides have been around almost as long as the roller coaster itself. But, have they lost their appeal and marketability recently?
First, a brief history lesson – inversions have been around for over a century. Sadly, not enough was known about physics and engineering back then to safely (and comfortably) take passengers through them.
The “Flip Flap Railway” punished riders with high, uneven g-forces.
Fast forward to 1975, and technology had evolved to the point that inversions were once again on the table, only this time – they were much more than just vertical loops; corkscrews (which are basically stretched out loops) made their debut at Knott’s Berry Farm
with the aptly named “Corkscrew.” The ride still runs today at Silverwood Theme Park
Photo from the Orange County Archives.
Soon, many other elements, such as pretzel loops, barrel rolls and Immelmans were being performed on a regular basis. The stakes kept getting raised at parks, with more and more inversions going into rides. Currently, the record stands at 14 inversions on one ride.
With so many coasters with inversions – why are so few of them represented in national top ten lists? There are several possibilities:
1.) People are genuinely freaked out by loops –
There’s something about being tossed head over heels that hits at the psyche of the human brain. I would know – I refused to do anything that looped until 1993…
2.) Pre-1995 inversions had some rough transitions –
Turns out, it was quite difficult to engineer track to specifications that were ideal for inversions AND for regular track. While most companies managed, you can still tell when the computer didn’t quite “get it right” when the roughness gets a bit out of control.
3.) The restraint system used on many looping rides can feel restrictive –
Coaster enthusiasts and regular park guests love the freedom to move around. Who doesn’t want more legroom on a flight, right? Because most multi-loopers have what’s called an over the shoulder restraint (OTSR) or “horse collar” restraint, our bodies are restricted from any movement in the upper body.
Unfortunately, this leads to the ubiquitous “head banging” on many older looping rides with this style of restraint. Even older B&M coasters, lauded for their incredible levels of precision, can have headbanging moments with these types of restraints.
There is some credence to this theory – the Steel Phantom at Kennywood, which used to feature inversions when it debuted, was altered to remove them in favor of airtime hills and a simple, lap bar restraint system. The ride subsequently saw a resurgence in popularity.
What do you think? Are inversions over-rated or just misunderstood?