New roller coaster regulations hashed out

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 21, 2000

OAKLAND — California’s amusement park rides will get new regulations soon, but just how snug the new safety bar fits is central to a roller-coaster debate between ride operators and consumer advocates. 

Amusement park lawyers and ride safety advocates gathered Monday as the process approached its last hairpin turn – the release of final rules next year. 

The meeting before state Division of Occupational Safety and Health lawyers was the last public chance to lobby for changes to the new policies. Regulators expect to finalize the rules by March. 

Until this year, California inspected only rides at temporary carnivals.  

A string of recent accidents prompted state Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, to push for a new law, which took effect Jan. 1. 

The law remains largely unenforceable because the state still must adopt regulations that will outline safety standards, inspection procedures and how penalties should be assessed. 

State lawyers hammering out the law’s convoluted details also must decide when ride operators must report accidents, and that question dominated the hourlong meeting. 

Torlakson said regulators have softened his original language, allowing parks to ignore all but the most serious injuries. Those changes occurred as regulators fleshed out his original bill. 

“Obviously, this is not in keeping with what I felt is the strongest position to take,” Torlakson said in an interview after the meeting.  

“It’s more in line with what the industry wanted.” 

But that language still can be changed.  

State regulators must decide once and for all whether operators should report injuries such as whiplash – or whether mandatory reporting should be reserved for more gruesome incidents involving death and disfigurement. 

Park operators champion less stringent reporting rules, arguing that increased disclosure will not make rides safer.  

Safety advocates argue the opposite – they say reporting of all incidents would help riders, and their parents, decide what rides are safe. 

“Theme parks are under a lot of competing priorities and only one of those is safety,” said Kathy Fackler, a leading safety advocate whose son was injured in a roller coaster accident at Disneyland in March 1998.  

“It’s a political process and both sides have been lobbying heavily.” 

Boyd Jensen, a Santa Ana lawyer who represents amusement park interests, argued for language that would limit mandatory reporting to a well-defined set of conditions such as a broken bone or concussion. 

The two sides were able to find common ground on another lingering issue – training for ride inspectors.  

Both Jensen and Fackler agreed that inspectors need widely recognized training to be certified. 

On the Net: 

Division of Occupational Safety and Health: www.dir.ca.gov/DOSH/ 

Ride Satefy Advocates: www.saferparks.org