Traveling carnival rides are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commision (“CPSC”), but this federal agency has not required safety improvements from any ride manufacturers during the last eight years. The agency, which is responsible for overseeing the safety of 15,000 products in addition to the safety of amusement rides, has no employees devoted to ride safety. Frequently, CPSC employees don’t even arrive at a carnival where an injury has occurred until after the ride has been taken apart, making the task of determining what went wrong with the ride virtually impossible.
While the regulation of traveling carnival rides is poorly enforced and often subject to voluntary standards set by the amusement industry, fixed theme parks are worse off because they are not subject to any regulations at a national level. Rather, all laws regarding theme park safety are governed by the state in which the park is located.
To understand the dangers caused by this lack of regulation, one can look to the popular ride known as “The Sizzler.” In the last decade, there have been at least 5 deaths from the Sizzler and dozens of injuries. In July, 2007, a 6 year old boy was thrown from a Sizzler in Kentucky and hit in the head by the moving equipment of the ride. This prompted the manufacturer of the ride to recommend to operators that seat belts be added, but because this was not a requirement, it is unknown haw many rides of the approximately 200 Sizzlers in use in the U.S. actually have seatbelts (which are now common on grocery carts throughout the country). The July incident was not the first incident of a child being thrown from the ride. In 2005, a 9 year old girl died in Texas after she slipped under the lap bar and was thrown to the machine’s platform, where her head was crushed by a metal arm. The similarities between these 2 accidents and many others led a group of state ride inspection chiefs from approximately 25 states to call for the Sizzler manufacturer to take action to reduce “an unacceptable level of ejection risk,” but the only action was the recommendation that operators voluntarily install seatbelts.
Deaths and injuries are, unfortuantely, not limited to traveling carnival rides. In 2007, 2 deaths resulted from 4 years drowning in wave pools at theme parks and one 13 year old girl had both feet severed from her legs when a cable broke on a Tower of Power ride at a Kentucky theme park. Although any product can be dangerous when it is defectively manufactured, maintained or used, thrill rides present a greater risk than most products because they often move at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Parents and riders should take caution and follow all rider guidelines on height, weight and security measures, but if an injury should occur, take steps to protect your legal rights. For instance, someone at the scene should immediately take photographs of the ride and the position of the rider before he or she is removed from the machine (so long as doing so will not delay treatment to the victim or interfere with medical providers and emergency personnel). Also, it is wise to request that the ride not be taken apart before officials can arrive to inspect it.