TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Monday, November 19, 2007

Congress Considering Expansion of CPSC Authority to Reach Fixed-Site Amusement Parks

Congress is in coming weeks considering legislation [PDF from a couple of years ago, but I think it's current] that would include fixed-site amusement parks in the CPSC's regulatory authority.  There are a number of resources addressing the issue:

  • Congressman Ed Markey is sponsoring the legislation and has materials on his website.
  • has a page describing the current federal structure (oversight of traveling rides but not fixed-site parks) as well as a list of "myths" about the potential for CPSC oversight.
  • IAAPA (the international group representing parks, ride manufacturers, etc.) has posted about the issue on its sorta-strangely-formatted blog; they also have a statement [PDF] on their website making many of the same points.  (In case it's important, I have presented at IAAPA conferences in the past; other than admission, I don't think they paid for anything for me, including travel, etc.)
  • Chad Emerson (Faulkner), who works closely with IAAPA on various issues, has an article [PDF] on the topic, Chad D. Emerson, The Continuing Showdown Over Who Should Regulate Amusement Attraction Safety:  A Critical Analysis of Why Fixed-Site Amusement Attraction Safety Should Remain State-Governed, 28 SETON HALL LEGIS. J. 1 (2003).

Most of the criticisms of CPSC oversight tend to create some strawmen that are easy to knock down, largely focused on how the CPSC couldn't possibly go and inspect every ride and that states do a fine job of that already.  Nobody (to my knowledge) suggests that the CPSC should be out inspecting rides every season; they're much more about being a clearinghouse of information and about figuring out what happened after an accident has occurred, ensuring that fixes get distributed everywhere. 

As for the federalism argument, CPSC oversight would complement, not replace, what state oversight exists (which is, in some places, terrific, and in others, nonexistent).  The bill simply removes the exception for fixed-site rides.  State regulators already work along with federal regulators for portable rides, so I'm not sure where the notion that adding CPSC oversight to fixed-site rides would take away any state authority comes from.  Of course, the CPSC could preempt state regulations in specific instances, but I'm aware of no times that's occurred with traveling rides or any reasons to believe it would happen with fixed-site rides.

On balance, I think CPSC oversight is a good idea -- though I think it should be accompanied by substantial increases in resources so that they can do the work appropriately.  Markey's bill would fund the CPSC with $500,000 for the work.  Maybe that's enough.  (And I wouldn't mind some more resources for CPSC for its other responsibilities, either...)


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