Saturday, August 05, 2000

Report says injuries at theme parks have doubled

Kings Island says its numbers are down

By John Seewer, The Associated Press
and Jim Knippenberg, The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal report that says amusement park injuries have nearly doubled since 1996 is scary enough to shake the most fearless thrill seeker.

        The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says its annual study released this week found there were 7,260 rider injuries last year at amusement parks with permanent rides. That's compared with 3,720 injuries in 1996. The report was based on injuries that sent people to hospital emergency rooms.

        The report says there were 10,380 injuries in all at parks, fairs and carnivals in 1999.

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

        While amusement park operators across the country doubt the report, spokesmen for Para mount's Kings Island and the state office that inspects rides say riders are safer in Ohio than elsewhere.

        Ohio and Florida are the only states with full-time ride inspectors.

        The report gives more ammunition to those who want Congress to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission authority to regulate and inspect rides at the nation's biggest theme parks.

        A pending bill would restore that power.

        Amusement industry leaders say they have noticed no increase in injuries. Some have noticed a decrease, including Kings Island.

        “We have no figures for '99, but in the years prior, the numbers actually went down,” said David Mandt, marketing communications manager for the park. “We have more than 3 million visitors a year and give them 28 million rides. Our injury rate is .00005 percent, and most of them are pinched fingers or people tripping as they come off the ride.”

        There have been eight injuries throughout Ohio this year that have required hospital admittance, says Deborah Abbott, public information officer in the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Divi sion of Amusement Rides Safety. Over the past five years, there have been 43 injuries at Ohio's theme parks, fairs, water parks, go-kart tracks and family entertainment centers, with 41 of them attributed to rider or operator error.

        Part of the reason for Ohio's safety record, Ms. Abbott says, is the ride inspection system.

        Inspectors arrive before the park opens for the season and inspect every ride. Each is certified individually. Midsummer, they visit again, sometimes unannounced, and look at how ride operators perform. In fall, they show up again and tell the parks what they need to work on.

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

        “Even if the report is right, it still is an extraordinarily low number,” said John Graff, president of International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “We're still talking about one serious injury in 27 million rides.”

        During the 1990s, there were 21 rider deaths at amusement parks nationwide and seven at fairs and carnivals.Three riders have died in Ohio since 1987.


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