May 28, 2006
News Coverage After an Accident
The amusement industry happens to be my particular interest (see my other blog, MassTort.org, for more rambling about it), but this story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is certainly representative of a more general category of media coverage -- the industry overview after a high-profile accident. The recent mining tragedies triggered a similar series of stories. It's worth a look in that context.
The CPSC has no oversight over fixed-site amusement parks, only over traveling carnivals, and state regulation varies widely, ranging from state inspections of every ride to no state oversight at all (SaferParks.org has a generally accurate overview). In Minnesota, ride safety is left to the parks and their insurers (except, I assume, if a worker is injured, in which case OSHA or the state equivalent could get involved, or if there is a criminal offense). This exchange seems to summarize the ongoing debate about regulation of rides -- but really it could be about regulation of nearly everything:
When there's an accident in a system like Minnesota's, "there's no one there who doesn't have a serious vested financial interest," said Kathy Fackler, who started an advocacy group in La Jolla, Calif., called Saferparks, after her son lost toes on a ride at Disneyland eight years ago.
But that financial interest keeps parks from being reckless about safety, said Tip Harrison, physical plant director at Valleyfair.
The financial incentive argument, of course, has its limitations, especially at the undercapitalized end of the spectrum (typically but not exclusively non-fixed-site entities like traveling carnivals). Valleyfair is owned by Cedar Fair LP, with net revenues over $500 million a year (about to jump dramatically after its purchase of the Paramount Parks chain); there is no shallow pocket problem.
The one thing the story doesn't quite make clear -- and stories rarely do -- is that the proposal to remove the exception for fixed-site parks (sometimes called the "rollercoaster loophole") is not preemptive of state regulation. The CPSC does not have an inspection system, nor does anyone, I think, expect them to create one.
What the CPSC may be good at is serving as an information clearinghouse -- so that if, as in the case of Valleyfair, there's a problem with a particular part on a particular kind of coaster made by a particular manufacturer, the CPSC can facilitate information-sharing among competing chains and independent parks. See these documents relating to a death on a Sizzler ride at a fair in Massachusetts to get a sense of what the CPSC does now in connection with non-fixed-site rides.
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