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California Amusement Park Accident Raises Oversight Concerns

Earlier this month, two people were injured at California's Great America amusement park when a roller coaster struck a park employee. While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, the incident highlights the importance of amusement park safety.

While amusement accidents are relatively rare, they do occur. In fact, four deaths have occurred at Great America since it opened in 1976. In 1999, a 12-year-old Sunnyvale boy fell to his death from the Drop Zone "free-fall" tower.

Given the potential risks, many are surprised to discover that there are currently no federal regulations governing amusement park rides. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) oversees the safety of carnival rides transported from one location to another, it is not authorized to police fixed-site amusement rides. Oversight is left to the states, insurance companies, or the parks themselves.

“Roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, who has unsuccessfully pushed for stricter federal regulations. “A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour. This is a mistake.”

Under Sen. Markey’s proposed legislation, the CPSC would be authorized to inspect the country's 400 "fixed site" amusement parks and collect data of the frequency and causes of accidents. According to a recent study, more than 93,000 children under 18 were treated in emergency rooms for amusement-park-related injuries between 1990 and 2010. The researchers also predicted that one child is hospitalized once every three days in the summer from an injury related to an amusement park or carnival ride.

Given the risks, if your summer plans include a trip to a California amusement park, we urge you to keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • Be aware of the safety equipment limitations. Ride manufacturers provide seat belts, lap bars, and other safety equipment to reduce the risk of injury. However, as referenced above, many safety devices used on children’s amusement rides aren’t designed to keep young children in their seats. Thus, do not rely on lap bars and seat belts to restrain children. After close observation, use common sense judgment to determine if the ride is safe for your kids. If you have any doubt, skip the ride.
  • Always obey minimum height, age, weight, and health restrictions. If your child does not meet the necessary requirements, do not attempt to sneak them on the ride. The requirements are there for a reason—safety. Ride manufacturers’ restrictions are supposed to take into account the forces exerted by the ride and the intellectual maturity required to ride safely. A child who does not meet the ride requirements may not be physically or developmentally able to stay safely seated.
  • Follow any special instructions about seating order or loading. Spinning rides sometimes require that smaller riders sit on the inside (closest to the center pole) to avoid being squished by bigger riders as the centrifugal force increases. Thus, the amusement ride attendant should position small children away from open sides for safety reasons. If you decide to ignore explicit instructions or reposition riders after the operator has seated your party, you may be endangering your children.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a San Diego accident caused by someone else’s negligence, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.