Roller coaster safety inspections

When you spend up to 30 million dollars on a piece of equipment, you’re going to protect your investment by taking care of it. That’s how much a new roller coaster can coast. If you own an older roller coaster, you aren’t going to shell out that kind of money if it’s not necessary. So you take care of what you have.

Roller coasters are inspected daily by maintenance crews who test not only by sight, but by sound and feel. After a visual inspection, the crew runs the roller coaster empty of passengers, watching and listening for any abnormalities. Then the crew gets on for their own ride, this time paying attention to anything in the feel of the ride that seems out of sync. The roller coaster is open to the public only after a complete inspection of the cars, lap bars, and tracks that can take up to four hours.

A more through inspection at least once a year involves complete disassembly of the cars to check for any cracks or nicks in the wheels, frame, and undercarriage. Tests are performed using special dyes, x-rays, and ultra-sound to check the integrity of parts. Any that are found to be defective are replaced or repaired by a professional. All parts of the roller coaster is examined and repaired, if needed.

Amusement parks have inspections schedules that require not only daily inspections, but more through weekly, monthly, and yearly inspections of all rides. Just as a lawn mower comes with a detailed use, safety, and service guide, the same applies to roller coasters and other amusement park rides. The makers of roller coasters and amusement industry organizations offer guides and seminars in maintenance and safety.

There is no one center or agency for regulation of the amusement park industry. Each state has its own regulation for the fixed sites and for moveable rides. Some states inspect at the time of set-up at carnivals or state fairs, then again at their own discretion, sometimes not until the next year at fixed sites or the next time a carnival sets up. Thirty-nine states require state or local inspections or insurance-related inspections for both fixed and movable rides. Others require that inspection be done by a state official only, such as the Department of Labor or Health and Safety. Nine states have no inspection requirements at all.

Mississippi requires a license for tax purposes, but leaves inspections up to the individual localities, as does Nevada, except for state fair rides which are inspected by the fair commission. Florida doesn’t require inspection of fixed sites that have 1000 or more employees company-wide. The state of Idaho wants only an electrical inspection unless otherwise required by local authorities. So there are no guidelines for inspections. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency that regulates everything in the lives of United States citizens, states that the industry is governing itself and the frequency of accidents (averaging less than 3500 or 6200 or 7000 per year depending on the source) and fatalities (an average of two per year according to all sources) means that the industry is doing a good job. The agency cites the fact that trampolines and skateboards are a far greater risk to consumers.

Just as there is no central inspection agency, there are no nationwide accident reporting requirements. Each state makes its own rules on what has to be reported. Some amusement parks don’t have to report anything other than deaths, while other states want to know about even the slightest mishap. Florida, with its many amusement parks, doesn’t require public reporting of accidents.

There is always a risk when an industry regulates itself, but this one seems to be doing a good job of it, world wide. In reality, the numbers of accidents varies from one source to another, but with over 300 million visitors to amusements parks yearly, the number of reported accidents remains low. According to industry leaders, the odds of being injured enough to require hospitalization is 1 in 10 million and the risk of a fatality is 1 in 790 million. And the real fact is that deaths on roller coasters are often caused by rider carelessness, an existing health condition, or the rider being of a size not suited to the ride.

Everyone knows that liability insurance is a must and any company that insures a roller coaster ride is going to insist on minimizing their risk. So feel confident that if your state doesn’t require an inspection, the insurance company will.

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