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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Killer Or Thriller? How Safe Are Carnival Rides?

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Have you ever stop to think about the safety of the rides you and your family are enjoying? Do you know what is done to ensure your safety? Do you know who, if anyone, is making sure that your safety remains a priority? Repeated attempts to create a federal regulatory agency to oversee amusement park safety have failed, otherwise a Texas teen may be alive today.

The 16-year-old girl was killed when she and another teen were ejected from a spinning carnival ride called “The Sizzler” outside a Texas church. The deceased teen collided with a metal barrier; she died at the hospital. A third teen walked away unscathed from the accident. El Paso police said the three girls were the only ones on the ride at the time of the incident. They were attending the carnival in honor of a Mexican holiday.

According to the aunt of the teen that was able to walk away from the incident, the girls complained that the seat belts would not buckle, but the ride operator told them that they were OK. She also said that only two people were supposed to be on inside the ride at the time, but all three girls were allowed to ride together. The ride operator has said that he did put a seat belt on the girls, as well as latch the lap bar over their legs prior to starting the ride. As part of the investigation, “detectives are looking into whether the safety equipment was utilized, functioning properly and regulations were met by the ride operator and vendor,” according to a Police Department news release.

“The Sizzler” is a popular ride that whirls riders around a center pivot and also spins them in their seats. The ride is owned by Playtime Amusements Inc. in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with more than 200 Sizzlers operating in the U.S. Playtime was established in 2007 and this is the first incident involving one of its rides.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 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. National Amusement Ride Safety Consultant Ken Martin has been inspecting carnival rides for over 25 years. He said the machines are well built, but the breakdown occurs — literally and figuratively — in how states inspect them. Regulations vary from state to state. Some states inspect carnival rides every time they are set up in a new location, while others only inspect them once a year. Six states perform no inspections whatsoever, according to the CPSC. While inspections are typically done by the insurance company, some states allow the owners to inspect the rides themselves. When complaints arise or accidents occur, investigations are often times conducted by the ride operator.

In Texas, no regulatory agency oversees rides, though the Texas Department of Insurance (DOI) approves them and ensures they are inspected. Ride operators are required to have an annual inspection and $1 million liability insurance,” said Ben Gonzalez, a DOI spokesman. “Each ride has a sticker and should be certified to the riders as they approach” the ride, Gonzalez said. He said the Sizzler at the church carnival had been inspected by insurance company-hired engineers. The Texas Department of Insurance does not perform the inspections.

Even if the equipment passes inspection, there is no guarantee the ride is being operated safely. Some errors are due to the ride operator, such as failure to ensure all restraints are secured, negligently operating the ride, allowing inappropriate activities on or near the ride, or not ensuring minimum requirements are met by riders. Still, National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials say that the vast majority of accidents are caused by rider negligence.

Although injuries and fatal accidents from amusement park rides are small in number compared to the millions of visitors to parks each year, no one wants to end up being a statistic. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety when visiting amusement parks and enjoying rides. Here is a list of things you can do to stay safe:

  1. Follow posted signs regarding rider recommendations – height requirements, health concerns, and physical limitations.
  2. Wear the seat belt and/or harness; make sure they are snug. Use the lap bar. Ask the ride operator to check it.
  3. Don’t wear clothing that dangles or drags. Wear sturdy shoes such as tennis shoes; not flip-flops.
  4. Keep arms, legs, and head inside the compartment.
  5. Sit properly on the ride to avoid compromising the effectiveness of the safety restraints.
  6. Never try to stand while on a roller coaster.
  7. Make sure the ride has come to a complete stop before existing. Most injuries occur when riders try to exit too soon.
  8. Secure loose articles – sunglasses, cell phones, keys, hates, etc. Lose items can fly out and potentially injure other riders or park goers.

Despite taking these necessary precautions, in the end is it enough?  Or, do you think the amusement ride industry should establish a uniform set of regulations that are applicable in all 50 states? As U.S. Sen. Edward Markey – MA (D) once stated, “A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.”

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