The ten passengers who were stuck on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida on October 9 are an important reminder that rides can (and will) breakdown. Rides are machines, and machines can have malfunctions. That means that whenever you climb aboard an attraction, you run a risk of possibly getting stuck.
Granted, the risk is small, and even if you're stranded, it's not very likely that you'll be injured. Even though the passengers were stuck on the Rockit's lift hill for about two hours, they were all rescued safely.
If seeing the news reports about this incident is making you nervous about riding roller coasters and other attractions, here are some important points to consider:
Rides have elaborate safety systems. It was actually the safety system that caused to Rockit to stop because most roller coasters have fail safes in place that shut them down when there's any sort of glitch. Normally your train stops on the next brake run, where it's relatively easy to evacuate you. That's what happened to the Rockit's other trains, which is why you didn't see that part on the news. The lift hill was the only dramatic part because it's vertical, which makes evacuation more of a challenge.
Parks have evacuation plans in place. Most of the time when a ride breaks down you'll be stuck on it for a little while until it can be started up again. It can almost always be restarted, which means it simply continues its cycle and you exit in the normal fashion. That's happened to me many times; the longest was being stuck on the top of SheiKra's second hill in a rain storm for 20 minutes at Busch Gardens. I had an impressive view of Tampa until it started running again.
However, next time you ride SheiKra, take note of the evacuation apparatus on the lift hill. It's a special device because SheiKra is a floorless roller coaster. If it got stuck and could not be restarted, the park would simply put its evacuation plan in place.
New rides are more prone to glitches. Your chance of getting stuck on a ride is small, but it increases for new attractions, especially those that use new technology. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a good example. There's still no other ride like it, and when it opened, it represented an entirely new way to use Kuka robot arms on a ride. It also had quite a few breakdowns in those early days. I got stuck many times, including an uncomfortable spell on my back by the Whomping Willow.
I actually enjoyed those breakdowns because, when they were long enough, the work lights would come on and I could see the fascinating ride mechanisms. Now, however, the bugs are worked out, and it's rare for that attraction to have any major failures.
Parks don't want accidents. Every now and then the news posts panicky stories about the lack over oversight over the big Florida parks because they're exempt from government inspections. That means the responsibility for safety lies solely in their hands, based on their own safety practices and self-inspections.
Should that make you nervous? It doesn't bother me a bit. Remember, Florida depends on tourism, and a fatal accident is a huge black eye for any park where it happens, with ripple effects on the whole industry. Thus the parks do everything in their power to make sure that accidents don't occur because they don't want to hurt their core business.
Yes, there's a chance you'll get stuck, and maybe even need to be evacuated, every time you step on a ride. However, the risk is so small that it's far outweighed by the fun of experiencing your favorite attractions.