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Page 2: Public kept in dark over safety of theme and amusement parks

Mobile sites vs. fixed sites

There is no consensus over whether fixed sites are any safer than mobile sites. The federal government does not collect national accident or defect data on fixed sites, but it does collect and publish injury and fatality reports for both fixed and mobile sites.

 

Amusement ride-related fatalities from 1987 through 2000 by ride type and site

The majority of the deaths were associated with roller coasters and "whirling" rides.

Type of ride Fixed Mobile Unknown Total
Roller Coaster 13 0 3 16
Whirling 2 4 4 10
Water 7 0 0 7
Train 2 1 0 3
Ferris Wheel 2 0 0 2
Sleigh 1 0 0 1
Other 7 3 2 12
Total 34 8 9 51
Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, August 2001 (data for 1999-2000 is incomplete)

From 1993 through 2000, fixed sites experienced a growing number of injuries, whereas mobile site injuries remained relatively stable. Also, fixed sites reported a higher number of injuries than mobile sites, but these numbers do not reflect the percentage of injuries at either site. This means that although fixed sites report more injuries, it might be because there are more fixed-site parks than mobile parks in the U.S.

"Roller Coaster Loophole"

The "Roller Coaster Loophole" refers to wording that was added to the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1981 that exempts fixed-site amusement rides from federal safety oversight. A fixed-site amusement ride is any ride that is permanently attached to the ground. This means that amusement rides in carnivals and other mobile attractions are subject to federal regulations, but rides in fixed-site amusement parks are not.

 

The Consumer Product Safety Act was added as a part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass) has been fighting to repeal the 1981 act by introducing legislation that would allow federal regulation of fixed sites. The National Amusement Park Bill would give the federal government the authority to investigate accidents, collect national accident and defect data, and develop and enforce plans to correct defects on permanent sites. The bill would also authorize $500,000 annually to enable the Consumer Product Safety Commission to carry out the plans.

Jim Barber, chairman of the communication committee for the National Amusement Park Ride Safety Organization, says that Markey's legislation would do little to improve the safety of the rides. Barber says that the current level of inspection is sufficient and adding another layer of regulation will not improve the safety of the rides significantly. "There are over 2 billion rides taken on fixed sites and mobile sites each year and there are only 7,500 injuries reported each year and that includes bumps and scrapes. I would say that is a pretty good track record," Barber says.                                    

Insuring the thrills and spills

David Garret, vice president at Hass & Wilkerson, an insurance company that specializes in amusement park insurance, says most amusement park insurance claims come from bungee jumping, mechanical bulls, inflatable rides, and dry slides. Garret says the safety of either a mobile ride or fixed ride is largely influenced by the management and how the park is operated.

Insurance companies perform underwriting inspections that determine the overall safety of the park. Hass & Wilkerson performs inspections every one to three years depending on the park's safety record. If a park has an outstanding safety record it is inspected less often. Underwriters focus on whether the park employs qualified individuals and how much training they've had. Additionally, underwriters check for safety signs posted throughout the park, such as height qualifications or rider precautions. The sites are inspected by certified inspectors who are usually a part of the insurance company's staff. Inspectors are usually certified by nationally recognized amusement parks organizations such as the National Association of Amusement Rides Safety Organization.

Along with underwriting inspections, most amusement parks undergo state and private inspections. These inspections will employ nondestructive techniques, such as using X-rays to find cracks, performing test runs, and doing visual inspections to determine the safety of the ride. State and private inspectors will also consult manuals printed by the ride manufacturers that alert them to possible problems.

Despite this level of inspection, serious accidents do occur. However, many of these accidents can be avoided with the proper safety precautions. While it may not be possible to determine the safety of the theme or amusement park you are visiting, taking safety measures while you are at the park could save your life.  Back to Page 1

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