[Congressional Record Volume 151, Number 68 (Friday, May 20, 2005)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1042-E1043]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

[[Page E1042]]


                         HON. EDWARD J. MARKEY

                            of massachusetts

                    in the house of representatives

                         Thursday, May 19, 2005

  Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Speaker, Memorial Day is the beginning of the season 
when American families take their children to our amusement parks for a 
day of fun and sun. Unfortunately, it is also the case that over 75 
percent of the serious injuries suffered on these rides occur between 
the months of May and September. Most of America thinks that the rides 
at these parks are subject to oversight by the Nation's top consumer 
safety watchdog--the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But 
this is not true. The industry used to be subject to federal safety 
regulation, but in 1981 it succeeded in carving out a special-interest 
political exemption in the law--the so-called Roller Coaster Loophole.
  This loophole is a dangerous gap in child safety and prevention, and 
it is having serious consequences. Since 1987, 64 people have died on 
an amusement park ride, and the vast majority of those deaths have 
occurred on rides that are totally unregulated at the federal level.
  It is time to put the safety of our children first--it is time to 
close the Roller Coaster Loophole.
  Today I am introducing the National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act, 
to restore safety oversight to a largely unregulated industry. I am 
joined in this effort by Representatives Schakowsky (IL), Rangel (NY), 
Neal (MA), Payne (NJ), McGovern (MA), Norton (DC), Maloney (NY), 
Kucinich (OR), Frank (MA), Brown, S. (OR) and Eshoo (CA).

                          support for the bill

  We are supported in this endeavor by the Nation's leading consumer-
protection advocates, including Saferparks.org, the Consumer Federation 
of America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the National SAFE 
KIDS Campaign, and Kids in Danger.
  Excerpts from their letters of endorsement include:

       ``Children are uniquely vulnerable to hazards associated 
     with amusement ride machinery. . . It is simply indefensible 
     for Congress to allow a special interest loophole of this 
     magnitude in an industry that serves up high-speed thrills to 
     300 million paying customers every year, especially when most 
     of the resulting injuries accrue to children.''--Kathy 
     Fackler, Saferparks.org.
       ``Federal oversight is crucial to the prevention of any 
     future deaths and injuries with fixed site amusement parks 
     due to the vast variation in state laws and the absence of 
     any regulation in some states.''--Rachel Weintraub, Consumer 
     Federation of America and Lindsey Johnson, U.S. Public 
     Interest Research Group.
       ``The CPSC must be granted jurisdiction of fixed-site 
     amusement park rides in order for all states to benefit from 
     federal investigation of safety hazards.''--Alan Korn, 
     National SAFE KIDS Campaign.
       ``Unregulated amusement rides are not what consumers expect 
     when they visit some of the best-known tourist attractions in 
     the U.S. Consumers expect that someone has made sure the ride 
     is as safe as possible and that the government oversees such 
     safety.''--Nancy Cowles, Kids In Danger.

  Last year, the Nation's pediatricians--the doctors who treat the 
injuries suffered by children on amusement park rides--endorsed our 
bill. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ``a first step 
to prevention of these injuries is adopting stronger safety regulations 
that allow for better inspection and oversight of the fixed-rides.''

                 the problem with state-only regulation

  ``Fixed'' or ``fixed-site'' rides are found predominantly in 
destination theme parks. When an accident occurs on such rides, the law 
actually prevents the CPSC from even setting foot in the park to find 
out what happened. In some States, an investigation may occur, but in 
many, there is literally no regulatory oversight at all. And no matter 
how diligent a particular state might be, there is no substitute for 
federal oversight of an industry where; park visitors often come from 
out-of-state; a single manufacturer will sell versions of the same ride 
to park operators in many different States; no State has the 
jurisdiction, resources or mission to ensure that the safety lessons 
learned within its borders are shared systematically with every other 

                    rides can kill, not just thrill

  Although the overall risk of death on an amusement park ride is very 
small, it is not zero. Sixty-four have occurred on amusement park rides 
since 1987, and over two-thirds occur on ``fixed-site'' rides in our 
theme parks. In August 1999, 4 deaths occurred on roller coasters in 
just one week, ``one of the most calamitous weeks in the history of 
America's amusement parks,'' according to U.S. News and World Report:

       August 22--a 12-year-old boy fell to his death after 
     slipping through a harness on the Drop Zone ride at 
     Paramount's Great America Theme Park in Santa Clara, 
       August 23--a 20-year-old man died on the Shockwave roller 
     coaster at Paramount King's Dominion theme park near 
     Richmond, Virginia;
       August 28--a 39-year-old woman and her 8-year-old daughter 
     were killed when their car slid backward down a 30-foot 
     ascent and crashed into another car, injuring two others on 
     the Wild Wonder roller coaster at Gillian's Wonderland Pier 
     in Ocean City, New Jersey.
  In 2003:

       An 11-year-old girl died at Six Flags Great America in 
     Gurnee, Illinois.
       A 32-year-old woman was killed when she fell from the Raven 
     roller coaster at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park 
     in Santa Claus, Indiana.
       A 53-year-old woman was killed after being struck by the 
     Joker's Jukebox ride at Six Flags New Orleans. She was 
     checking to make sure her grandson's seat belt was properly 
       A 34-year-old woman died a day after suffering a heart 
     attack during her ride on the Top Gun roller coaster at 
     Paramount's Kings Island theme park in Cincinnati, Ohio.
       An 8-year-old boy has died from injuries he suffered on a 
     bumper car ride last month at the Lake County Fair in Ohio. 
     The boy was severely shocked when he touched a pole on a 
     bumper car ride called the Scooter.

  In 2004:

       A 51-year-old woman was killed after she fell 60 feet from 
     an amusement ride called the Hawk at the Rockin Raceway in 
     Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The owner was later convicted of 
     reckless homicide for bypassing the ride safety system.
       A 55-year-old man suffered fatal injuries when he fell from 
     the Superman Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags New 
     England theme park in Agawam, Massachusetts.
       At Playland amusement park in Rye, New York, a 7-year-old 
     girl suffered massive head injuries when she fell from the 
     park's Mind Scrambler ride. She was rushed to a hospital 
     where she was pronounced dead.
       A 4-year-old boy died from injuries he suffered last 
     Thursday at Water Works, a water park in Cuyahoga Falls, 
     Ohio. Lifeguards found the boy floating in five feet of water 
     after he nearly drowned.
       A 13-year-old boy died from internal injuries he suffered 
     in an accident at Wacky Waters Adventure Park in Davenport, 
     Iowa. Witnesses say that the boy fell from a rappelling rope 
     into a pool of water.
       A 39-year-old man died from a fall while boarding the 
     Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster at Universal Studios 
     theme park in Orlando, Florida.

  Every one of these is an unspeakable horror for the families, and 
every one of them deserves to be investigated by a federal safety 
expert with the knowledge and the power to ensure that what happened at 
the accident site does not get repeated in other States.
  It is simply inexcusable that when a loved one dies or is seriously 
injured on these rides, there is no system in place to ensure that the 
ride is investigated, the causes determined, and the flaws fixed, not 
just on that ride, but on every similar ride in every other state. The 
reason this system does not exist is the Roller Coaster Loophole.
  Every other consumer product affecting interstate commerce--a bicycle 
or a baby carriage, for example--endures CPSC oversight. But the theme 
park industry acts as if its commercial success depends on remaining 
exempt from CPSC oversight. When a child is injured on a defective 
bicycle, the CPSC can prevent similar accidents by ensuring that the 
defect is repaired. If that same child has an accident on a faulty 
roller coaster, no CPSC investigation is allowed. But the industry has 
its loophole, and it is placing its priority on protecting its special-
interest privileges, rather than its special duty to ensure the safety 
of its patrons.
  That's just plain wrong.


  The industry attempts to justify their special-interest exemption by 
pretending that there is no risk in riding machines that carry human 
beings 70, 80 or 90 miles an hour. The rides are very short, and most 
people are not injured. But in fact, the number of fatalities per 
passenger mile on roller coasters is higher than on passenger trains, 
passenger buses, and passenger planes. The National Safety Council uses 
a standard method of comparing risk of injury per distance traveled. 
Riding on a roller coaster is generally safer than driving a car, but 
is not generally safer than riding a passenger bus, train or airplane:
  Fatalities are just the tip of the problem, however. Broken bones, 
gashes, and other serious injuries have been rising much faster than 
attendance. Neither the CPSC is prohibited from requiring the 
submission of injury data directly from ride operators, so it is forced 
to fall back on an indirect method, the National Electronic Injury 
Surveillance System (NEISS), which gathers information from a 

[[Page E1043]]

sample of hospital emergency rooms and then estimates national numbers. 
Nevertheless, NEISS has been gathering these statistics systematically 
over many years, so that trends become clear over time.
  Beginning in 1996, a sharp upward trend can be seen in hospital 
emergency room visits by passengers on unregulated ``fixed'' rides--the 
category of rides exempt from CPSC regulation under the Roller Coaster 
Loophole. These injuries soared 96 percent over the next 5 years. 
Meanwhile, such emergency room visits were falling for passengers on 
rides that the CPSC still regulates.
  The theme park industry likes to tell the public that its rides are 
safer than the mobile rides because they are overseen by a permanent 
park staff, but according to this independent government safety agency 
report, the mobile parks have less of an injury problem than the theme 
  Why has this startling increase in amusement park rides occurred 
recently? No one knows for sure. If the facts were known to the CPSC, 
it could do its job. But the facts are kept from the CPSC, so we are 
left to speculate. We know, for example, that new steel technology and 
the roller coaster building boom of the 1990s resulted in an increase 
in the speed almost as dramatic as the increase in serious injuries. 
All of the nation's 15 fastest coasters have been built in the last 10 
years. In 1980, the top speed hit 60 mph. In 1990, it hit 70 mph. The 
top speed today is 120 mph, and Six Flags is advertising a new ride for 
2005 of 128 mph. The roller coaster arms race is alive and well.
  For the most part, these rides are designed, operated and ridden 
safely. But clearly, the margin for error is much narrower for a child 
on a ride traveling at 100 mph than on a ride traveling 50 mph. 
Children often do foolish things, and the operators themselves are 
often teenagers. People make mistakes. The design of these rides must 
anticipate that their patrons will act like children, because they 
often are children.


  The bill we are introducing today will close the special-interest 
loophole that prevents effective federal safety oversight of amusement 
park rides. It would, therefore, restore to the CPSC the standard 
safety jurisdiction over ``fixed-site'' amusement park rides that it 
used to have before the Roller Coaster Loophole was adopted. There 
would no longer be an artificial and unjustifiable split between 
unregulated ``fixed-site'' rides and regulated ``mobile'' rides. When a 
family traveled to a park anywhere in the United States, a mother or 
father would know that their children were being place on a ride that 
was subject to basic safety regulation by the CPSC.
  It would restore CPSC's authority to: 1. Investigate accidents, 2. 
Develop and enforce action plans to correct defects, and 3. Act as a 
national clearinghouse for accident and defect data.
  The bill would also authorize appropriations of $500 thousand 
annually to enable the CPSC to carry out the purposes of the Act.
  I urge my colleagues to join us in this effort to make this the 
safest summer ever in our theme parks. Let's pass the National 
Amusement Park Ride Safety Act.