Ride of Your Life: Thrill rides and the battle for safety
A new Washington Post feature on the safety of amusement park rides entitled "On Thrill Rides, Safety is Optional," details the largely unregulated and unchecked world of the thrill ride. In the article, writer Elizabeth Williamson paints a picture of disconnect and intrigue: lack of federal (and in some cases, state) regulation of thrill rides has created a world where lobbying, perks and campaign funding keep government interference at bay. It's also a world where--in the wake of injury and death--undereportage of injury and disappearing rides take the place of inspection.
In the meantime, high profile injuries, like that of Kaitlyn Lassiter, who lost her feet on Six Flags' Tower of Power last year, are increasingly calling into question an industry that--according to Williamson--seems to operate in a world resembling the wild west. Read her extraordinary expose by clicking the links below.
The CPSC has no employee whose full-time job is to ensure the safety of such rides. 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.
Randy Lasitter, Kaitlyn's father, said he was shocked to learn that state agriculture inspectors would be looking into the accident. "We thought there must be somebody they're reporting to in Washington, or working with in Washington . . . but it wasn't," he said. "People who go to those parks have this illusion of safety. It's an illusion, we know that."
Although the CPSC regulates children's toys, strollers, bicycles and car seats, it has no jurisdiction over rides at fixed amusement parks, such as those run by Walt Disney Co., Six Flags, Universal and Anheuser-Busch Entertainment that host an estimated 300 million people on 1.84 billion rides annually.