Spring is here, and that means families are flocking to amusement parks. A day at an amusement park is supposed to be carefree and fun, but these innocent outings sometimes end in tragedy, with lives forever changed. Two to four people die each year on amusement park rides in the United States, but the number of serious, long-term injuries from amusement park accidents is far higher. One of the scariest things about amusement park rides is that there is no national safety and inspection standard for fixed-site operations.
Amusement Park Rides
Amusement park rides are supposed to offer thrills, but customers assume these spine-tingling rides are well-maintained and safe. For example, at Six Flags Over Texas, the new Joker ride opens in May. Named for the most notorious Batman villain, the Joker coaster promises to “wreak havoc as riders flip head-over-heels at least six times during the weightless journey.” Thousands of thrill ride aficionados are counting down the days until the Joker opens.
Responsibilities and Inspections
Major, fixed-site attractions such as the Six Flags and Disney theme parks fall under the jurisdiction of state and municipal control. Traveling carnivals with rides are regulated by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Exactly which state agency regulates fixed-site parks depends on the state. Six states – Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah – never set up any type of oversight. In other states, it may fall to the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Public Health, Consumer Protection or another agency to conduct inspections. In Texas, regulation of amusement park rides falls to the Department of Insurance. In 10 states, there are no statewide regulations, but county inspectors are charged with amusement park oversight.
There’s also a lack of consistency in the ways inspections are conducted. Some amusement park inspections are annual, while others occur every six months. In some instances, the number of inspections is left to the inspector’s discretion, which could mean more frequent visits – or far fewer. In some states, the amusement park is permitted to self-regulate, as long as they hire qualified inspectors. While it may put a damper on your family’s anticipated visit to an amusement park, find out how often the park you plan to go to is inspected and by whom. The state agency in charge of park regulation should provide you with an individual park’s safety record. If one or two rides are responsible for most injuries, think twice about boarding them.
Although falls from roller coasters and similar thrill rides most often make headlines, inflatable rides pose the highest risk of death or serious injury. Those statistics are based on amusement parks which submit accident reports to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the industry trade representative. However, the majority of amusement parks do not bother to answer the IAAPA surveys, so the overall results are inconclusive. When amusement parks are sued, settlements are nearly always confidential, so the facility does not admit wrongdoing.