By Lezli Baskerville |
As an amusement ride safety inspector for more than two decades, I do see the need for federal oversight of amusement ride registrations, inspections and accident investigations, particularly in the absence of universal, consistent state inspection programs. However, there are significant challenges in both the creation and the management of such an agency to ensure resources are only directed to where they're needed.
The primary challenge would be in finding enough properly trained ride inspectors to handle the tremendous workload. Most states don't have enough trained inspectors as it is, and a federal system would require at least 300 new ones in the field. This talent would likely need to be robbed from the state level, essentially shutting down some very effective state inspection programs.
Another issue is determining which type of operation requires the most intense regulation. The amusement industry is comprised of two radically different facets, both of which require vastly different levels of oversight and regulation: stationary parks and traveling carnivals.
Traveling shows simply must be inspected after every setup. You wouldn't believe the damage that can occur to rides from one setup to the next. One ride owner actually set up a Sizzler ride with a badly mangled sweep end (which holds four rotating cars). They confessed that it swung out and hit a bridge support while being transported because someone didn't secure it properly to the truck. I condemned the ride. Another show managed to break off an adjustable steel support leg responsible for holding up the track of a "Dragon Wagon" family-style roller coaster. They couldn't understand why I wouldn't approve it with a large block of wood where the steel leg was supposed to be.
The traveling carnivals that I've inspected have all types of owners. About half are conscientious and diligent in their ride maintenance, while others are simply deplorable. A ride owner once summarized his blatant complacency to me in shocking terms. He said, "The same number of guests ride my rides whether I maintain them or not, so why should I waste money maintaining them?" Don't worry folks – his rides are all closed, and he's now in prison for bribing local politicians.
In contrast, I've never seen this sort of nonsense at traditional amusement parks, even though they are essentially self-regulated. Major amusement parks employ the best qualified inspectors in the industry; they inspect and maintain their rides daily, plus they perform an extensive annual rehab every winter to comply with manufacturer specifications. Parks have the most to lose if their rides were to injure someone because they can't simply pack up and drive to a new location.
Knowing this, they spend enormous amounts of time, money and resources to make sure their equipment is as safe as possible. You may be surprised to learn that ride technicians at amusement parks routinely train government inspectors on how to inspect their own rides.
If a federal amusement ride safety inspection program is to serve a purpose, it needs to use highly competent inspectors, but these are very difficult to find. No schools offer such skills. You learn by getting your hands dirty taking the rides apart and rebuilding them from the ground up. The primary focus of such a program should be on the traveling shows. Attempting to add more regulation to permanent parks would be a waste of federal resources.
About Walter Reiss Amusement Ride Safety Inspector
Paul Noland President and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions
Jeffrey M. Reiff Attorney at Reiff and Bily