It’s getting to be that time of year again—time to pack up a car and head off to one of 450 amusement parks throughout the country. Every year, approximately 270 million people take the trip to see the attractions and ride roller coasters. You may feel your stomach begin to drop as you climb 300 or more feet to the top of one of those roller coasters, but don’t worry: a qualified team of engineers have got your back.
The development of roller coasters is (thankfully) much more involved than most people think. On average, it can take 8 months to 5 years to get a safely operational ride. Most roller coasters are created by a team of structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers, along with architects, physicists, and more qualified workers. This group of specialists work together to create drawings and plans that assess aspects such as placement, controls, safety, environmental impacts, and interaction with the project area. Safety is the biggest concern when designing and developing the ride. The cars must reach a high enough speed to reach the peaks and turns but cannot be so fast that they injure the riders. Engineers must also consider environmental factors such as wind, soil, and topography when deciding on design and speed. Seemingly small problems such as unstable soil or too strong of winds could prevent operation. Before opening, the engineers put the roller coasters through a series of detailed tests to ensure that the ride is completely safe and operational. In fact, it is more likely to be injured while fishing than it is to be injured on a roller coaster! The parks adhere to stringent safety standards and regulations every day to ensure just that.
So, the next time you’re staring down the drop of a roller coaster, know that there is a team of engineers preventing your car from jumping the rails. You may not feel so sure while you’re perched at the top of the tracks, but it may help to remind yourself as you pass the top and go!