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Poor Regulation of Amusement Park Rides Can Have Deadly Consequences

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Amusement park and carnival rides in the United States are not subject to any federal oversight, a situation that can lead to deadly accidents

If the industry is as safe as it says, why are parks reticent about publishing injury data and attempt to seal court records and make it a condition of settlement that accident victims not discuss their cases?  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)-the federal agency regulating traveling carnival rides-publishes mobile and fixed-site ride injury data; however, statistics are provided in raw form, with an algorithm.  Even experts are challenged with the information.  In its last report on ride injuries, the CPSC estimated that in 2004, 2,500 people were injured on traveling carnival rides and 3,400 on fixed-site park rides. The industry disputes this, saying its self-reported numbers for park injuries are far less.  Court documents on a Disney case pointed to more than 2,600 injuries on five rides from 1999 to 2001.

In December 2005, nine-year old Fatima Cervantes and her eight-year old brother boarded a Sizzler ride at an Austin carnival.  Fatima slipped beneath the lap bar and was thrown onto the platform where a metal arm crushed her head.  Since 1997, Sizzlers have been involved in at least four other deaths and dozens of injuries in the U. S.  In June, a group of 25 state inspection chiefs requested the ride’s manufacturer, Wisdom Industries, take immediate measures to prevent unacceptable levels of ejection risk.  The CPSC has not required manufacturers to make improvements in eight years.

Although theme parks tend to have better safety records than traveling carnivals, there are injuries and deaths.  The family of Kaitlyn Lassiter, the girl whose feet were severed on the Tower of Power ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, is suing Six Flags.  Timothy Fan was killed on Kings Dominion’s Shockwave; however, many feel the boy did not follow park instructions and reports suggest he tried to intentionally circumvent the ride’s safety measures.  There is emerging data linking brain hematomas to rides and there have been cases against Disney alleging people suffered brain injuries on their rides. Research has prompted calls for G-force limits, yet the industry disputes the findings, saying its experts say the rides do not cause these injuries.

Some feel restraint ruins rides.  Some argue there is no tangible data to measure the prevalence of accidents because there is no objective, comprehensive statistical source.  Others maintain common sense is underrated, for instance, little children on too-big rides; allowing youngsters in wave pools.  And some argue additional safeguards are in order, for example, a life preserver requirement for wave pools.  U. S. regulatory history shows a competent, objective layer of oversight is more efficient than self-policing.

Interestingly, the president for the Outdoor Amusement Business Association feels the public should look at the risk-reward, while there are those seeking more regulation, there must be some return on investment.  He states there should be less taxing and government oversight, but-oddly-wants more federal support to bring in more traffic.  Essentially, he wants the U.S. taxpayer to spend more money to increase profits, but opposes effective safety enforcement.

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