Monday, March 3, 2008
Ted Frank contemplates self-operated amusement park rides overseas, suggesting they're hard to imagine here. Of course, many rides have a significant amount of risk controlled by the rider, especially in the water park context (consider also skiing, roller- and ice-skating, and so on). Rider control was also a theme at New Jersey's Action Park, as I discussed a while back.
But it is certainly true that the care taken to protect patrons from themselves is greater here than in many places. German carnival midways have far less intimidating fencing than their U.S. equivalents, and so far as I know, patrons don't go wandering into the rides' paths with any frequency, while in most years, we hear about at least one death in the U.S. of someone who goes into a ride area to retrieve (for instance) a baseball cap.
Risk averse because of litigation, or vice versa? Good question.
Some more thoughts:
U.S. parks have, for a variety of reasons mostly involving low-cost season passes, a large number of unaccompanied kids, perhaps more than overseas (I've no idea). It may be that the risks of patrons acting foolishly are lower elsewhere at least partially for reasons not related to general societal silliness, but instead due to simple age demographics. That's a rather industry-specific observation, though.
Another industry-specific observation has to do with oversight: there is no federal oversight of fixed-site amusement parks in the U.S., and state regulatory oversight varies a lot (from none to extensive, with most somewhere in the middle). That leaves the decisions about most safety issues to private insurers and attorneys, which presumably means more (too much?) caution. I don't know a lot about regulatory schemes overseas, though I have an inquiry in to someone who will, but I believe there is more reliance on the regulatory side than the civil justice system to encourage safety.
Finally, I think Ted's ultimate suggestion -- that risk averse actions are a luxury item, more or less -- may be right. Amusement parks are all about escapism and feeling carefree; presumably feeling carefree includes feeling that one doesn't have to worry about safety, even to the point of foolishness.