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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

Low Risk of Traumatic Brain Injury from Roller Coaster Rides, Says NJIT Researcher

With July 4th around the bend, if you’ve ever feared a head injury from a roller coaster ride, it’s time to stop worrying and enjoy your local amusement parks. Although a significant body of scientific research has long contended that the physics behind gravitational force isn’t enough to cause problems, misconceptions have abounded anyway, said Bryan Pfister, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering at NJIT.

Pfister recently set out to disprove such misconceptions in his paper “Head Motions While Riding Roller Coasters: Implications for Brain Injury,” (The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Dec. 2009).  The paper makes the case that “there appears to be an extremely low risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to the head motions induced by roller coaster rides.”

“The risk of TBI while riding roller coasters has received substantial attention. Case reports of TBI around the time of riding roller coasters have led many medical professionals to assert that the high gravitational forces (G-forces) induced by roller coasters pose a significant TBI risk. Head injury research, however, has shown that G-forces alone cannot predict TBI,” said Pfister.

“Unfortunately, many professionals have incorrectly used G-force measurements to dramatize the risk of head injury on a roller coaster ride.  Indeed, their misinterpretation would also conclude that it is too dangerous to drive a car.

While the exposure to G-forces on roller coasters appears high, it is not more that what you would experience in many everyday activities.”

Pfister used established head injury criterions and procedures to compare the potential of TBI between daily activities and roller coaster riding. Three-dimensional head motions were measured during three different roller coaster rides, a pillow fight, and car crash simulations.

Data was analyzed and compared with published data, using similar analyses of head motions. An 8.05 m/s car crash lead to the largest head injury criterion measure of 28.1 and head impact power of 3.41, over 6 times larger than the roller coaster rides of 4.1 and 0.36. Notably, the linear and rotational components of head acceleration during roller coaster rides were milder than those induced by many common activities.

Pfister, a specialist in neural tissue engineering, received in 2007 a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation to support and expand his research into rapid axon stretch growth, a technique for regenerating damaged or diseased nerve cells.  He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.  Read more about Pfister at:

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.