Amusement Park Injuries Up

Friday, August 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — It's a report that could frighten even the most fearless thrill-seeker: In the past four years, the number of injuries at the nation's amusement parks has nearly doubled.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's annual study, released this week, found there were about 7,260 rider injuries last year at amusement parks, compared to 3,720 injuries in 1996. Add in fairs and carnivals, and there were 10,380 injuries last year.

``Thrill rides are supposed to give people the illusion of danger, not put them in danger,'' said Ann Brown, the commission's chairwoman.

Park operators disputed the findings and said the skyrocketing numbers must be flawed.

The report, based on injuries that were serious enough to warrant emergency treatment, comes at a time when amusement parks have come under closer scrutiny.

Six people died last year on amusement park and carnival rides in the United States. Some lawmakers have proposed giving the government expanded authority to regulate all rides.

The commission now regulates rides that travel from site to site with carnivals and seasonal fairs. But regulation of roller coasters and other rides at amusement parks is left to states, more than a dozen of which lack inspection programs.

Amusement industry leaders say they have noticed no increase in injuries, and question the commission's findings. The number of injuries listed in the report is based on surveys taken at 100 hospitals across the nation.

``The whole thing is kind of curious,'' said John Graff, president of International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Graff said he believes the numbers are flawed because it's a small sample and researchers projected their overall numbers based on the 167 ride-related injuries they found at hospital emergency rooms.

The report's authors admit the total number of injuries could be off by as many as 5,560.

``Even if the report is right, it still is an extraordinarily low number,'' Graff said. ``We're still talking about one serious injury in 27 million rides.''

He said that after a reported increase in injuries in 1995, an independent agency found that there was no increase — only a change in accounting.

``We are able to confirm there is a trend,'' countered commission spokesman Russ Rader. ``Attendance rose less than 10 percent, and the injuries went up almost 100 percent.''

The safety commission says it can't determine what's behind the increase because of its lack of regulatory power. It says it must rely on sample surveys from hospital emergency rooms and has no access to data from the parks.

Ride inspectors say they would be the first to know if accidents increased.

``I haven't noticed that,'' said Jim Barber, a ride inspector from New York. ``It doesn't make sense that all of a sudden there's been this huge jump, unless they've changed the way they're counting.''

``It's so unusual to have a serious accident that it is big news,'' said Barber, president of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials.

During the 1990s, there were 21 rider deaths at amusement parks nationwide and seven at fairs and carnivals. Blame for the accidents has fallen on riders, ride operators and mechanical failure.

At Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, ride inspectors work around-the-clock. Park spokeswoman Janice Witherow said most accidents and injuries are caused by riders who don't follow the rules.

In the last six years, Witherow said there have been three accidents that resulted in hospital stays. Those involved rides but were not related to malfunctions or operator errors, she said.

``The industry's goal is safety,'' she said. ``Without an excellent safety record, there is no amusement industry.''