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Mark Bello
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Should There Be More Federal Oversight of Amusement Park Rides?


It’s the height of carnival season, and for many kids, that means thrills — as in rides like the Skymaster and Jitterbug. Carnival rides are supposed to be a little scary, but terrifying accidents happen every summer due to equipment failure, inconsistent state regulations and human error.

The Sandy Mountain Festival got underway on July 9. By all accounts, there were no problems until the next evening, when a young teen-age girl said she was injured during a scary incident on the popular Skymaster ride. A teen said that while she and friends were on the carnival ride, the harnesses loosened and two of the seatbelts came undone. She said that while she and her friends were screaming to stop the ride, she held onto the harness and braced herself in the seat by pushing her legs against the seat in front of her. Another teen slipped out of her seat and hit her head on the cage enclosure. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. The ride was operated by Paradise Amusements, LLC based in Post Falls, Idaho. The incident has triggered four investigations – the police, Paradise Amusements, the nonprofit Sandy Mountain Festival Committee and state authorities. Although a representative from Paradise Amusement said a preliminary report indicates the restraint bar may have failed, she also said there were numerous reports of kids intentionally unbuckling their seatbelts, perhaps to boost the thrills.

A few weeks later, a swing ride called the Jitterbug fell over at a Bowling Green, Kentucky Amusement Park injuring 12. Witnesses claim that the ride simply toppled over on its side and fell to the ground, leaving numerous riders trapped in their swing seats when the ride came to a halt. The state agency that oversees amusement park rides was notified; an investigation is ongoing to determine what could have gone wrong.

Who makes sure those traveling rides and rentals are properly maintained, set up and operated? The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates how amusement rides are manufactured, but there is no federal oversight over how they are set up, maintained and operated. That job is left to states, and rules vary widely.

When the carnival comes to town, the amusement rides resemble a canister of Tinker Toys with a training and inspection manual. The rides are put up and taken down regularly, leaving them open to the possibility that they may not be properly set up. In moving, assembling and operating that much equipment, there is always the possibility of something going wrong. The continual setup and break down of rides can also lead to wear and tear resulting in possible ride malfunction and injury. While some states are diligent and inspect carnival rides every time they are set up in a new location, others only inspect them once a year. Twenty-four states have comprehensive government inspection and accident investigation programs. Eleven, including Oregon, have minimum inspection and insurance requirements with oversight falling to the private sector. Nine states have partial oversight. No government agency is empowered to track equipment operating in the state, inspect rides, accidents, audit safety records, or shut down unsafe rides.

So, the questions remain: Are those thrilling rides a little too thrilling? Should there be more federal oversight of amusement parks? It may put your mind at ease to know that the risk of being injured seriously enough on an amusement ride to require overnight hospitalization for treatment is one in 9 million, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. The chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 750 million, based on an average of five rides per guest.

What do you think?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.


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  1. dennis Speigel says:
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    NO we do not need more oversight. Look at the record. More people are hurt each year Gardening, watching Tv , going to the refrigerator,mowing the lawn,Playing pool,Barbecuing,swimming…Amusement Parks are one of the safest places on the planet to be.Why? Because we are a very serious self inspecting industry.We have layers of inspection.Self inspection, Insurance inspection,Third party inspection,and in many States ,State inspections.Please study our Safety programs which the USA has exported around the World.Numerically , Actuarily we are extremely safe .Unfortunately when an accident does occur we receive the sensationalism of an airliner crash.One accident is one too many. We believe throughout our industry that safety is the most important item with which we deal on a daily basis.Dennis Speigel

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    The industry does a good job of ensuring their rides are safe, to not, would put them out of business. Federal oversight, self inspections, insurance inspections, and third party inspections will never take in to account what your body can handle. A rider can meet all the safety requirements and be healthy. The ride can pass all inspections. You step on the ride and exit with an injury. Your friend and 10(one of them ignores safety signs and rides with a hurt back) of her friends get on the same ride, sitting in the same seat and nothing.

    The more people are hurt each year gardening, mowing the lawn, etc…argument is one the industry loves to use. With all the injury reports we receive from riders and park employees, injuries occur daily. Some as small as a bump on the elbow. Others as serious as a rider sustaining whiplash or blacking out and not remembering the ride ending. Much like gardening, eh?

    More injuries than the industry will acknowledge occur. How many? Maybe someday they will answer that.