If you have kids, or if you’ve been a kid and have gone to a Disney park (or any theme park, to be honest), you know the anguish of not being tall enough to go on the “big kid” rides. However regardless of the tears, 39.5″ won’t hack a 40″ minimum height requirement, because even if the kid has spiked hair, or stands on their toes, or hacked shoes like these…
…the rider operator knows all the tricks and knows the kid can’t ride because of the safety risk.
But what IS the safety risk? Obviously if a kid is 40″ tall, one who is 39.5″ tall should be “good enough,” right? Well, it’s complicated.
How ride manufacturers determine minimum height restrictions is its own proprietary science (well, probably more like physics and maybe a little knowledge of human nature) that’s based on physical size, maturity level and marketability. However there seem to be two things in mind when considering height restrictions: for when things are going right and the ride is running as it should, and when things go wrong.
When things are going right & the ride is running as it should
This one is easy – there are some rides where a too-short person (I’m even talking adults of very short stature) just won’t “fit” into the ride seat in the way the ride manufacturer intended. Someone under the height limit can have as much spikey hair and shoe lifts as (s)he wants but neither will affect their trunk length, which is what’s needed for most safety instruments to work as intended.
- Padded harnesses may leave too much space between harness and too-short person, which could allow them to wiggle around too much.
- Lap bars that are used for 2 people might not adequately hold the smaller person, and depending on the ride, could allow the person to (literally) go flying – click here to see/read what happened when Chris Hemsworth tried to beat the system on what was then known as Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Manufacturers and ride operators also take a child’s age and ability to follow directions into consideration
- On a ride like Soarin’, a younger child who would typically be under the 40″ height restriction might not be mature enough to follow the directions to stay seated…while being lifted 40′ into the air, placing him/her at risk for a huge fall.
- On a ride like Silly Symphony Swings at Disneyland (or any “go in a circle on a swing” ride at a theme park or carnival), you’ve got the same immature person going high in the air and this time without an adult to hold onto him/her
Although not necessarily having to do with children per se, a person’s physical abilities and/or size also come into play.
- A shorter person might not be able to reach the pedal on driving or a bumper car style ride like Autotopia, so (s)he wouldn’t be able to operate it alone (I am a whopping 1/4″ inch taller than the height restriction to drive Autotopia [and some bumper cars] and I BARELY toe that gas pedal).
- A person who is an amputee might not be able to “hold on” as intended, placing him/her at risk for injury or even falling out of the ride vehicle during normal operation.
- The girth of someone with a larger body size might not allow the ride’s safety mechanisms to lock into place appropriately.
When things go wrong
The problems can also happen when something goes wrong. I would explain the whole thing, but a Disney cast member already did. Read this.
There’s little written about the science behind height restrictions. The ride manufacturers make their recommendations known to the ride owner/operator and it’s up to them to follow through. In Disney’s case, with such a strong focus on safety (and to not be sued), they do their best to ensure their guests follow the height restrictions, even if it makes the child cry (cast members will sometimes give the child a “Go To The Head Of The Line” certificate for a future visit, providing (s)he is tall enough).
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