[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 147 (2001), Part 4]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages 5790-5791]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]



                         HON. EDWARD J. MARKEY

                            of massachusetts

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, April 4, 2001

  Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the National 
Amusement Park Ride Safety Act, to restore safety oversight to an 
largely unregulated industry. I am joined in this effort by 
Representatives Connie Morella, John Tierney, Carolyn Maloney, Barney 
Frank, Peter DeFazio, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Cynthia McKinney, Tom 
Lantos, and Julia Carson. 
  It is shocking to realize that one-third of all roller coasters in 
this country are never inspected by any public safety official at all. 
These and other rides are large machines used to carry children at high 
speeds. Industry trends have been to increase the speed and the force 
of these machines to levels that exceed the forces experienced by 
shuttle astronauts. Although many of these rides are operated safely 
and without incident, nevertheless every day riders are hurt, often 
seriously, requiring hospitalization, visits to emergency rooms. And 
occasionally, someone who went to the park for a thrill actually is 
killed by the operation of these machines.
  To me, it is inexcusable that when someone 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 there is no national clearinghouse to prevent ride 
injuries is clear--since 1981, the industry has escaped routine product 
safety regulation through a loophole in the law. The industry carved 
out an exemption that says that while the Consumer Product Safety 
Commission can regulate every other consumer product, and while it can 
regulate small carnival rides that travel from town to town, it cannot 
step foot in an amusement park for the purpose of regulating a ride 
that is fixed to the site, such as a roller coaster.
  This is the so-called ``Roller Coaster Loophole'', and it needs to be 
closed. The bill eliminates the restriction on CPSC safety jurisdiction 
adopted in 1981. It will allow the CPSC the same scope of authority to 
protect against unreasonable risks of harm on ``fixed-site'' rides that 
it currently retains for carnival rides that are moved from site to 
site (``mobile rides.'') This would include the authority to 
investigate accidents, to develop and enforce action plans to correct 
defects, to require reports to the CPSC whenever a substantial hazard 
is identified, and to 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.


  The Consumer Product Safety Act provided the Consumer Product Safety 
Commission (CPSC) with the same consumer protections authority it has 
for other consumer products. However, in 1981, following a series of 
legal challenges by several owners of large theme parks, Congress 
stepped in and limited CPSC authority only to those rides ``not 
permanently fixed to a site.'' Thus, the CPSC currently is prohibited 
from investigating accidents or developing or enforcing safety plans 
and manufacturers, owners and operators of rides are not required to 
disclose to the CPSC defects which would create a substantial hazard of 
consumer injury. Since it cannot gather the information, the CPSC is 
also effectively prevented from sharing the information with others so 
that accidents in one state can be prevented in another.

                     Rising Risk of Serious Injury

  The CPSC estimates the number of serious injuries on fixed and mobile 
amusement park rides using the National Electronic Injury Surveillance 
System (NEISS). This data includes only injuries severe enough to have 
led the injured party to go to an emergency room. According to its July 
2000 summary, emergency-room injuries on fixed rides increased 95 
percent over the previous four years, and they rose most rapidly on the 
rides that are exempt from CPSC oversight.
  When one compares the safety record of this industry to other 
activities that involve traveling--as a passenger at high speed, such

[[Page 5791]]

as passenger trains, buses and planes, the amusement park industry's 
fatality rate is actually worse.
  Some states try to step in where the CPSC cannot, but states with 
inspection programs are very uneven depending on which agency has the 
responsibility and whether its expertise is design, operator training, 
manufacturing, etc. No state, and no industry organization, provides 
the national clearinghouse function that the CPSC currently provides 
for mobile rides and could provide for fixed-site rides.


  Although the overall risk of death on an amusement park ride is very 
small, it is not zero. In the course of one week in August 1999, for 
example, 4 deaths occurred on roller coasters, which U.S. News & World 
Report termed ``one of the most calamitous weeks in the history of 
America's amusement parks'':
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, California;
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.
  Each of these tragedies is an opportunity for the CPSC to search for 
causes and share its insights with the operators of other similar 
rides. Unless the law is changed, however, it cannot perform this role.
  One final point--the industry has the unfortunate habit of belittling 
the risk of loved ones getting mangled or killed on these machines by 
suggesting that the risk of getting hurt is lower than for ``bowling'' 
or ``watering your garden.'' In fact, the fatality rate on roller 
coasters approximates the risk of dying on passenger trains, buses and 
airplanes. None of those industries claims any exemption from federal 
oversight, and investigations by federal safety experts of train 
accidents, bus accidents or plane crashes is central to minimizing the 
reoccurrence of serious or fatal accidents in America.
  Yet this common sense eludes the amusement park industry, to the 
detriment of the safety of children and adult riders alike.
  As the spring and summer riding season begins, I urge my colleagues 
to cosponsor this modest restoration of safety to all parkgoers. Thank 


                        National Consumer Groups

Consumer Federation of America
Consumers Union
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
National SAFE KIDS Campaign

                     State & Local Consumer Groups

American Council on Consumer Awareness
Arizona Consumers Council
Center for Public Representation (WI)
Chicago Consumer Coalition
Columbia Consumer Education Council (SC)
The Consumer Alliance (midwest regional alliance)
Consumer Law Center of the South
Democratic Processes Center (AZ)
Empire State Consumer Association (NY)
Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group
Mercer County Community Action Agency (PA)
North Carolina Consumers Council
Oregon Consumer League