Rosa Ayala-Goana was killed on July 19 when she fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas theme park in Arlington, Texas. Shortly after the tragedy, Six Flags officials said they would be working with area law enforcement and other agencies to determine the cause of the accident. But now it has come to light that the theme park is actually investigating itself in the matter. As we have previously reported, there are no federal agencies, which have been given the authority to enforce safety standards at the park.
Amusement park standards are set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International, which is made up of consumer advocates, government officials, amusement park operators, ride manufacturers and industry suppliers. This organization establishes and reviews safety standards for amusement park rides. However, all these standards are voluntary.
Amusement parks are also subject to state and local governmental codes, requirements and safety inspections, and they must pass inspection by insurance companies. But an NBC News investigation revealed Texas is one of at least 17 states that have no agency responsible for inspecting amusement park rides, as designated by state code.
The Texas Giant roller coaster was built by Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, a 30-year-old ride manufacturer based in Munsterhausen, Germany. The ride was rebuilt two years ago by Rocky Mountain Construction of Hayden, Idaho. An independent inspection of the ride would have been conducted by the Texas Insurance Department, which requires an annual inspection to certify rides meet ASTM standards. However, the inspection is done by an employee or contractor of the insurance company, not any government authority.
According to a survey of state codes in all 50 states by NBC news, eight states required no permits or inspections for amusement park rides: Alabama; Mississippi; Montana; South Dakota; Utah; Vermont; West Virginia; and Wyoming. Additionally, seven states including Texas accept recommendations and safety approval from park-employed or –contracted inspectors or from insurance company inspectors: Texas; Arizona; Colorado; Delaware; Idaho (requires only electrical inspections); Missouri; and North Dakota.
NBC News additionally found that Florida does not require inspections for permanent facilities that employ 1,000 or more full-time employees and maintain their own safety inspectors; and Minnesota allows inspectors contracted by the park or by the State Agricultural Society. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only has jurisdiction over mobile amusement rides – those rides transported from location to location.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is the largest international trade association for permanently situated amusement parks worldwide. In its core beliefs statement, the IAAPA says “Safety is the foundation of our profession and top priority.” In March, the IAAPA published a report citing statistics that in 2011, 4.3 in 1 million people who visited an amusement park or attraction sustained an injury on a ride. This report was based on a survey of parks that self-reported injuries on their property. The data did not include any reports of deaths. Only 144 of 383 amusement parks in the U.S. with rides responded to the survey.
The Amusement Safety Organization recorded four “significant injuries” on the Texas Giant roller coaster ride in 2013, and seven in 2012, all for whiplash-like neck injuries. Witnesses told the Dallas Morning News that Ms. Ayala-Goana was worried about her safety restraint before the ride left the station, but Six Flags employees assured her it would be fine. The ride was closed until Six Flags’ investigation is complete, and the ride is inspected and approved by the Department of Insurance.
Sources: NBC News, IAAPA, CPSC, Dallas Morning News, and WFAA
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