Letter to Senators McCain, Hollings, Ashcroft and Bryan regarding amusement parks


April 12, 2000
The Honorable John McCain
Chair, Senate Commerce Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Ernest Hollings
Ranking Member, Senate Commerce Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable John Ashcroft
Chair, Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs,
Foreign Commerce and Tourism
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Richard Bryan
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs,
Foreign Commerce and Tourism
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senators McCain, Hollings, Ashcroft, and Bryan:
Consumers Union (CU) writes to urge you to schedule hearings on the dangerous gap in safety inspections of “fixed-site” amusement parks highlighted on April 7 in a USA Today cover story investigation and addressed in legislation introduced by Congressman Edward Markey in the House of Representatives.
Congress removed federal jurisdiction over fixed-site amusement parks in 1981, which CU opposed. USA Today finds an “alarming inconsistency in how closely rides are monitored, a situation experts say heightens the possibility of tragedies…” The number of emergency room injuries on fixed-site rides have increased by a whopping 87% in the last 5 years, yet the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is still barred from investigating those injuries. The CPSC estimates that emergency rooms treated 9,200 people for ride-related injuries in 1998, up 24% from 1994. People go to amusement parks for fun; they don’t expect to be injured
All the more shocking is that in the absence of federal jurisdiction over fixed-site rides, 14 states have failed to provide a state-level government inspection program. In addition to these 14 states, Florida exempts big theme parks from state inspections, Virginia relies on private inspections and New York exempts New York City, including Coney Island. Consumers who go to amusement parks assume that rides have undergone some form of safety inspection by a government official. Unfortunately, too often their assumptions are wrong.
In the case of mobile sites where CPSC does have jurisdiction, its oversight is helping save lives. Last year the agency investigated reports of 2 deaths and 3 injuries involving the Himalayan amusement park ride. Poor maintenance and inspection procedures had led to the ejection of riders. CPSC, together with the makers of the ride, set up new inspection and maintenance procedures.
Consumers Union has an additional concern. As technology and building materials improve, the ability to build bigger, faster rides increases. The ability of the human body to withstand these greater speeds and “G-forces,” however, has limits. According to the CPSC, there are no existing regulations, either on the state or federal level, that control the range of G-forces on the human body that certain roller coasters, for example, might exert. We urge the Commerce Committee to focus its attention on this issue, as well.
Thank you for your consideration of these concerns.
Sincerely
Sally Greenberg
Senior Product Safety Counsel