Almost 31,000 people end up in the emergency room from injuries suffered at amusement parks and theme parks. Many are minor, some are catastrophic. But one thing they have in common…no federal regulation.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission only oversees mobile amusements such as carnivals. That means that fixed-site or permanent amusements (like Disney, Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Universal) are inspected or regulated by the states, if they so choose. And in any manner the state chooses.
With the pull back of safety regulations by the government, it is expected that there will be more incidents causing more injuries. Summer is the most active time at amusement parks, filled with out-of-school children and vacationers trying to take in some fun. Many states regulate and inspect amusement parks, but at least six (Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah) have no regulation at all. And in one case in Texas, operator Six Flags was in charge of investigating its own accident which caused the death of a woman.
Besides the obvious dangers from rides that fail, there are other risks at these parks. Of great concern is that theme parks and amusement parks are magnets for pedophiles. In the past few years there have been police operations which have snared Disney employees in stings where they attempted to engage in sexual activities with underage children. The risks at any amusement park exist by virtue of the fact that they are filled with kids who are oblivious to anything other than having fun.
Water slides may present even greater unknown dangers. There are over 1300 water parks in operation in North America, with about 85 million visitors a year. It is estimated that as many as 4,200 people are taken to hospitals each year due to water park injuries. Two years ago a 10 year old boy, Caleb Schwab, was decapitated while riding what was billed as the world’s tallest water slide at Kansas’ Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The designer of that slide was just this past week arrested and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated battery and aggravated endangerment of child. Since this was a fixed amusement, there is no federal oversight. Under Kansas law, amusement ride inspections are required, but self-inspections are allowed. Parks like this can hire an outside inspector to inspect the ride once a year.
This summer will see millions trek to theme and amusement parks. By being vigilant we can help reduce some of the risks inherent in these experiences and allow parents to enjoy watching their children experience summer vacation at its best.