In Kansas City earlier this month, the 10-year-old son of a state legislator died on what is billed as “the world’s tallest water slide,” the Verruckt raft ride (Verruckt is German for “insane.”) In Greene County, Tennessee, on August 8, three girls fell to the ground when a ferris wheel malfunctioned. In light of these tragedies, critics are calling for tighter regulations on the industry.
Ken Martin, an amusement park safety consultant, says that every state has amusement parks, county fairs with midways and rides, and similar attractions, but there’s no agreement between any of the states regarding inspections or maintenance of the rides. He notes that, in the last five years, 29 people have died on amusement rides or water slides in the United States. He points to a powerful lobby funded by the amusement park industry, which he says has prevented federal regulation for years.
According to Martin, responsibility for federal oversight of amusement parks and water parks currently falls under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). However, the CPSC has no authority to regulate attractions at permanent parks—only traveling outfits like the one in Greene County. Even then, he warns, there’s no such thing as a routine annual inspection. Instead, federal investigators tend only to get involve after an accident.
If you live in one of six states—Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming—there are no laws whatsoever governing the inspection of carnival or amusement park rides. Some states, including Kansas and Tennessee, allow park owners to conduct their own inspections, using private inspectors.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania, however, are at the other end of the spectrum. Both have state-trained investigators who conduct thorough and regular inspections.
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