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Amusement rides in the United States are regulated through a confusing patchwork of federal, state and local laws, which some consumer groups feel are riddled with holes and special exemptions.
After a controversial 1981 law exempted amusement park rides from compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act (remember back when Reagan was dismantling all our consumer safeguards in favor of big business?), there has been an ongoing movement for federal legislation that would close the "roller coaster loophole."
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides only -- that is, those "not permanently fixed to a site."
Nonprofit groups like Saferparks in California are seeking to change that, and every time coaster accidents hit the news, their efforts gain momentum.
They want an integrated plan, The National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act, to combine the best features of federal and state/local oversight. They believe regulation should be centralized because there are thousands of different amusement rides, built by dozens of manufacturers (many out of business), operated by hundreds of different companies, and inspected by hundreds of private and public inspectors.
And let's not forget, ridden by millions of people.
"If it's one of the safest forms of recreation out there, why is it we can't agree to investigate the rare incidents that happen?" asks Saferparks president and founder Kathy Fackler. "Consumers have a right to know the safety record. In Virginia, you can't pull the records."
She's curious about the Kentucky accident and hopes that the state investigation into the girl's accident will look at the procedure by which companies reorder supplies like cable, and how closely the ride specs were followed by the state or local county officials. Intamin has said it hasn't sold cable to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom for that ride for 13 years, she says.
Parks are an "enormously powerful industry," Fackler says, but adds that she likes the approach that Cedar Fair took to safety. It's one of her favorites.
The parks feel that policing themselves is enough. In Virginia, ride owners investigate their own accidents, and death or injury requiring overnight hospitalization must be reported to the local building department.
"You have to put it in perspective," says IAAPA spokesman Mandt. "More than 300 million people visit theme parks in the United States every year, and those guests take more than 1.8 billion safe rides. The chance of being injured seriously on a theme park ride is 1 in 9 million. Riding a ride in a theme park is one of the safest forms of recreation available."
A lobbying force for parks, IAAPA opposes federal safety regulation but has sought federal subsidies ($50 million) to promote U.S. theme parks in other countries.
The Associated Press recently reported doctors were able to reattach one foot of the little girl maimed in the Kentucky accident. SReturn to the feature story.