What You Need to Know About Amusement Parks

Every year Americans take 1.8 billion rides for their own amusement, bumping undersized cars, shooting down water slides, riding on roller coasters, and voluntarily tilting and spinning at their own risk. Unthinkable, catastrophic injuries and deaths occur repeatedly in American amusement parks, theme parks and water parks. Because these businesses lack proper, efficient regulation, they often fail to properly maintain and inspect their equipment. And accidents frequently ensue.

In 1981, following legal challenges and lobbying by owners of large theme parks, the U.S. Congress limited the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to those rides “not permanently fixed to a site”. Rides operated at amusement parks and water parks are exempt from federal safety oversight.

As a result no federal agency has any authority to set uniform safety standards for fixed amusement park rides, investigate serious accidents, or require parks to correct hazards that may lead to rider injuries.

Currently state and local governments are responsible for creating their own amusement park safety and inspection programs. Because federal safety officials are not authorized to investigate amusement park accidents or safety hazards on fixed site amusement park rides, each state’s local government is responsible for the cost and implementation of any safety oversight for amusement park rides in their jurisdiction. While many theme park and amusement park operators claim that local legislators inspect their facilities, the fact remains that due to a lack of budget resources and technical expertise, often proper safety checks and investigations are haphazard or not performed at all.

Who inspects amusement parks now?

In some states, such as Florida, theme parks and water parks, whose parent company employs at least 1,000 full-time employees and maintains full-time, in-house safety inspectors in the state of Florida, are exempt from all requirements of the states regulatory system.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is the largest trade association overseeing permanent amusement park facilities. IAAPA and the industry claim that they have proper motivation to take safety precautions at their parks due to the fact that negative publicity creates a public backlash which affects their profitability and stresses that state governments should focus on traveling fairs or carnivals rather than large theme parks which are much more sophisticated.

Making theme and water parks safer

Consumer safety advocates raise the issue – if the rides are as safe as the amusement park owners and operator’s claim, then why not make them more transparent and promote The National Amusement Park Safety Act which would insure their safety.

The National Amusement Park Safety Act, would repeal the 1981 loophole exempting fixed site amusement park rides from federal safety oversight. The act would give the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission the authority to investigate accidents involving rides permanently fixed to a site, record all ride accident data, identify and correct ride safety hazards, and implement federal guidelines for the operation, maintenance, and design of fixed site amusement rides.

Before and after an amusement park accident

Accident data of most amusement parks is a well-guarded secret. It is only after an accident happens that the public learns of an injury due to a worker’s negligence, improper maintenance, or falsified records. Even the newest and most technically advanced rides with the latest safety guards may cause a significant injury if they are improperly designed, installed, maintained, or operated.