CPSC Has No Full Time Amusement Ride Inspector

If you’ve always just assumed there must be someone in charge of making sure those traveling carnivals have safe rides, you’re right. It’s our friends at the CPSC. Trouble is, they don’t actually have even one person whose full time job it is to ensure the safety of such rides, says the Washington Post.

The agency’s 90 field investigators — who oversee 15,000 products, work from their homes and live mostly on the East Coast — are so overstretched that they frequently arrive at carnival accident scenes after rides have been dismantled.

As a result, critics say, supermarket shopping carts feature a more standardized child-restraint system than do amusement rides, which can travel as fast as 100 mph and, according to federal estimates, cause an average of four deaths and thousands of injuries every year.

The article gives the “Sizzler” as an example of a ride that probably needs better safety measures, due to children being ejected from the ride. The CPSC has not required ride manufacturers to update any safety measures in 8 years. After a meeting last year on the Sizzler’s troubled safety record, the agency asked only that ride operators pay “greater attention to safety.” It also asked the ride’s manufacturer to provide seat belts, but did not require them to do so or check to see if they did.

On Thrill Rides, Safety Is Optional [Washington Post] (Thanks, Michael!)
(Photo:Benimoto)

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  1. Whenever I see Consumer Product Safety Commission as CPSC I go into a brain freeze trying to distinguish it between CPS (Chicago Public Schools) and for some reason, CPD (Chicago Police Dept). Add to it that the article is by Marco…

    Ever since that girl lost her feet at that amusement ride, I haven’t ventured near these places.

  2. Egakino says:

    Um, ok wow. Figured as much incompetence was going on but investigations going on AFTER the ride was dismantled, thats a bit much. I did have to laugh at the thought of random children being ejected everywhere from one of those spinning devices. However thats me and my love for black humor stepping in.

    In before nanny state and “I have never done anything remotely dangerous so all those who get hurt deserved it” commenter’s

  3. r4__ says:

    I thought most states had an inspector for rides, though that may just be for fixed rides like amusement parks instead of a bunch of carnies traveling just fast enough to avoid the bad publicity from the kids they killed.
    Obligatory “CSPC is worthless” comment.

  4. DrGirlfriend says:

    I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a gut feeling that amusement park rides aren’t properly monitored for safety. I’m a total pansy when it comes to anything wilder than the bumper cars, so I stay away. But come on…”suggesing” that rides be made safer? In the meantime, make sure kids don’t wear jackets with waistline drawstrings!

  5. SaveMeJeebus says:

    “When I was a kid you actually went on the rides to get thrown off.”

  6. hapless says:

    I think this is the proof in the proverbial pudding that the market works. It’s pretty obvious that the government doesn’t meddle here, but there are few accidents relative to the number of carnival-goers.

    (Of course, I think I would prefer we hadn’t taken the risk of letting the market do its work on this one…)

  7. econobiker says:

    Overprices rusted, damaged traveling amusement rides manned by 16 year old runaways or 49 year old meth heads. What could be more free market than that!!!

    During the spring and summer every mall in my area gets the same traveling amusement group in their parking lot or on the lawn. I hate it but I have to tell my sons that we can not go.

  8. backbroken says:

    You mean that ride assembled and operated by a man with more letters in his first name (Joebilly) than teeth wearing a 25 year old t-shirt that says “I shot JR” isn’t necessarily safe?

    Well you can knock me over with a feather!

  9. @AngrySicilian: Do you remember that year a girl got her hair ripped off on Giant Drop? She was scalped on the way down. Just thinking of it sends chills down my spine. I don’t go near those places either.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    @r4__: Many states do, although in the states with higher concentrations of amusement parks (Florida), the large amusement parks are exempt from state inspectors and “self-inspect” their equipment. Reporting of accidents is purely voluntary, although the media does a good job of making sure the big screwups get reported.

  11. TortsProf says:

    Indeed, many states have inspectors; for the most part, pre-accident activity is left to the states. The concept of CPSC oversight (for carnival rides now, and for fixed-site rides under Rep. Markey’s proposal) is almost entirely reactive and information-gathering — i.e., if something goes wrong on a Sizzler in Alabama, making sure that ride owners everywhere find out about it and act accordingly. So it’s not exactly a failure for the CPSC not to have a full-time inspector, as that’s not what they do. They investigate post-incident.

    (I write more about this stuff on the TortsProf blog, [lawprofessors.typepad.com])

  12. Tonguetied says:

    Why is it assumed that issues like this should be dealt with on the federal level as opposed to lower down in the chain?
    My understanding is that most carnival safety inspections are handled at the state or the local level with city and county inspectors, etc.

  13. humphrmi says:

    Hmm, offtopic, but all the sudden today all comments from people who don’t have avatars are getting messed up by text in place of the avatar that reads “No commenter image uploaded”.

  14. JustinAche says:

    I remember one of those swinging boat rides I went on as a kid, sitting on one end, and realizing midway through I was too little to be sitting there, because the lap belt didn’t come all the way down….Oop! Thank god it wasn’t one of the ones that go upside down, like nowadays.

  15. Murph1908 says:

    Four deaths.

    Four deaths.

    Tragic on an individual level, yes. But how many THOUSANDS of people ride these rides every year?

    Falling on a knife in an open dishwasher probably causes four deaths per year.

  16. mupethifi says:

    The safety mechanism i always used was to avoid at all cost, because of the creepy workers

  17. Freedomboy says:

    And tell me this, just why is crossing a stateline with intent to create injury due to concealing known safety flaws NOT a federal crime and why is it not a conspiracy as well since more than one person in the carny troupe knows about it and actively conceals the fact. And how in hell do these jerks get operational permits and if they do why in hell are the issuing agencies not co-defendants in a civil suit the size of the GDP?

  18. majortom1981 says:

    Yes but some states are very strict on their rides.

    New Jersey where Six Flags Great Adventure is is very very strict on the rides.

    I wish every state would take on How New Jersey does their inspections.

  19. boandmichele says:

    @solareclipse2: okay you just made my body all shaky and weird, just thinking about that. oh god. how horrible.

  20. mconfoy says:

    @hapless: No actually, the market is working thanks to the Post article that provides information to all. Markets only work if information on the product or service’s true value is freely available to all. Now that I have this information, no more carnie rides for my kids until we have someone in the Whitehouse that fixes the CPSC.

  21. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @Murph1908: “Falling on a knife in an open dishwasher probably causes four deaths per year. “

    Thats funny my wife used to make fun of me when I always made sure the knives and forks were pointed down in the dishwasher. Until her mom fell one day and impaled her hand on a knife sticking up in the dishwasher. nOw she does it religiously.

  22. emjsea says:

    Wow. It’s dangerous to leave the house. Who would have thunk it?

    So imagine how many of this particular ride exists across the country and how many times a day they run. So over ten years, there were five frickin’ fatalities. Fatalities due to operator error. Not manufacturing defects, not mechanical problems. But, hey, all them there pesky facts wouldn’t make for a good scare-the-parents article, would they?!

    Next up, “there are dangerous bullies on the playground… how can the gub’ment protect your youngin’s?: … a riveting 3-part article stating the obvious and exclusive to the Washington Post (and every other paper with a new “journalist” who needs an article to write about”)

  23. mconfoy says:

    @FLConsumer: Are you sure the media does a good job? How about when Disney World hires people with no back ground checks that turn out to be mental cases and murder (handgun) another employee in the parking lot at Downtown Disney? Do you really believe the press, police or government in Florida will bite the hand that feeds them?

  24. SaraAB87 says:

    This is a big issue for me and I have been a fan of amusement rides for longer than I can remember. Inspections are done on the state level in the USA, so you need to do some research to see what is being done in your state to keep rides safe.

    Here in NY state Fixed site amusement parks are only inspected once a year at opening, and I do not think this is enough because there is a lot of wear and tear that goes on during a season with the rides. This lax inspection plan also encourages parks to take cost cutting measures in order to make more profit such as fudging repairs and not fixing things exactly when they should be fixed and not fixing them properly. They should be inspected at least once every 2 months, or 2-3 times per summer.

    I have an interesting view on travelling carnival rides. I am not at all worried about my safety on them because the people that work with the rides are with the rides all season long and they KNOW those rides inside and out and when there is a problem. These guys in my experience will also bend over backwards to give you great customer service because if you do not come back to their show they do not make any money. Carnival employees (at least here) also do a VERY good job of controlling the kids and crowd control and giving instructions to riders, and tossing out misbehaving riders and such.

    Also, in NY state travelling carnival rides are inspected by the state at each spot they are set up so any wear and tear that happens is caught and the ride is either shut down or repaired. This is a very good inspection program and I happen to know NY state inspectors are VERY strict when it comes to travelling rides. I will not mention names but last summer a certain carnival with bad rides attempted to operate in NY state however they were met with 2 inspectors for each ride and the carnival was promptly removed and the rides were impounded. Not one person was allowed on the rides. It makes me feel really good to know that NY state inspectors are doing their job.

    I am much more concerned about the 16-18 year old six flags (insert name of big chain park here) park employee not noticing a problem because he/she is inexperienced, tired, hot, making minimum wage, young and just does not want to be there and has just been hired and recieved little to no training..

    I am also an adult, I know how to conduct myself on a ride, and I am not going to do something foolish. If you conduct yourself properly on rides, SUPERVISE YOUR CHILDREN in parks and when at carnivals, and teach them about ride safety there is an extremely small chance you will get hurt on a ride, the chance of getting hurt driving or flying on a plane to the park or carnival is much higher. Also, a bit of common sense helps, if something looks wrong it probably is and you should avoid it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to spot a bad ride.

  25. Sytteg says:

    Makes me glad for articles like this [kotv.com] from our local news station. Publishing the portable rides that caused injury so next year those rides can be avoided, although usually they never return. Like the Wildcat rollercoaster which caused a local death and was sold to another park and has never been one of the traveling rides. Sometimes rides that are not profitable in this market sit unassembled in their staging area inside a closed water park. (The fair runs two weeks from the end of September to the first week in October)

  26. Rachacha says:

    Fixed site amusement rides like Disney and Six Flags are regulated (and inspected) at the state level. Mobile rides that set up in your local shopping mall parking lot are regulated by CPSC. Many states/local jurisdictions require permits before the mobile rides can be set up and that often times requires some sort of safety inspection.

  27. SaraAB87 says:

    This is a great website for reading about amusement ride accidents, its a bit morbid though so be warned.

    [www.rideaccidents.com]

    I am ok with going on a ride after an accident (but probably not the exact same ride) as long as the problem is fixed, and service bulletins are issued to for all other rides of the same model, and those bulletins are put into effect. You have to keep in mind whether the problem was addressed or not when choosing not to go on a ride, if it hasn’t been fixed then you probably should avoid it.

  28. lockdog says:

    @DemolitionMan: I had the same :”Oh shit, I’m too small for this ride moment.It was either at Sea Breeze or Darien Lake. Even my Dad riding next to me realized it and grabbed me.

    Much later I spent a couple years working in or as a sub for several major amusement parks. I was mostly working on laser and pyro shows so I don’t have much direct experience with rides, but its easy to pick up a general feel for how committed a place is to safety. I was most impressed with safety at what used to be the Sea World in Ohio (though it had few rides, their Safety/ Risk Management Dept was so thorough it was both hateful and awe-inspiring). I also liked all of the Anheuser-Busch themes parks (the other sea worlds, discovery cove, Busch gardens, etc). Hershey Park in PA seemed like a well run place during my brief stint there. Disney and Universal in Orlando were both as committed to safety as Anheuser Busch, but tended to treat their employees like crap. That’s a risky combination. The worst parks I ever worked in or visited were the 6 Flags / Paramount parks. Too much focus on profits, no real emphasis on safety (comparatively), and poor employee morale. All together, ouch.

  29. mconfoy says:

    @Murph1908: I don’t know. How many? And that’s deaths due to that one ride. So tell me, how many rides per 4 deaths?

    @emjsea: Did you read the article? 4 deaths on Sizzler in last 10 years. 4 deaths last summer on rides. And not operator error. Faulty equipment. In this country and other parts of the civilized world, civilized, I repeat, civilized people try and protect children from injury or death that is unnecessary.

  30. Bryan Price says:

    I’m reminded of my first carnival ride. I was 3,3 1/2, and my 20 year old sister took me on my first Ferris Wheel ride. I was a bit small, and a too scared at the start. I originally wanted off the ride, but stayed on and finally enjoyed the last half of the ride.

    I know in Ohio, the Department of Agriculture inspects mobile carnival rides. They were next door to my satellite office in the Ohio State Fire Marshall.

  31. trollkiller says:

    @mconfoy: Yeah the press down here will bite the Mouse hand that feeds them.

  32. cdchan says:

    I am an ex state ride inspector, I inspected rides for almost 17 years and most states do have inspection units but a unit is only as good as the people who are doing the inspections. everybody talks about the inspections of rides but doing an accident investagation after the ride has been taken down is something I have never heard of.
    the cpsc is a joke to start with in seventeen years in the industry I never saw one investgator from the cpsc on an accident scene. I wish the federal government would start an inspection unit for theme parks. I would be the first one at the door

  33. cdchan says:

    @lockdog: just a note to back you up. Hershey park, pa has the best safty program I have seen in any theme park I have had the pleasure of seeing.