Roller coasters, g forces, and brain trauma: on the wrong track?

J Neurotrauma. 2002 Oct;19(10):1117-20. doi: 10.1089/08977150260337921.


There has been enormous attention in the general press on the possibility that high G force roller coasters are inducing brain injury in riders. Armed with a handful of anecdotal case reports of brain injuries, the U.S. Congress has recently proposed legislation to regulate the level of G forces of roller coasters. However, high G forces are well tolerated during many activities and, therefore, are a poor measure for the risk of brain injury. Rather, accelerations of the head that can be caused by G forces are the key to producing injury. To determine the extent of head accelerations during roller coaster rides, we acquired G force data from three popular high G roller coasters. We used the highest recorded G forces in a simple mathematical model of head rotational acceleration, with the head rigidly pivoting from the base of the skull at a radius representing typical men and women. With this model, we calculated peak head rotational accelerations in three directions. Even for a conservative worst-case scenario, we found that the highest estimated peak head accelerations induced by roller coasters were far below conventional levels that are predicted for head injuries. Accordingly, our findings do not support the contention that current roller coaster rides produce high enough forces to mechanically deform and injure the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Gravitation*
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Models, Biological