Perched atop the Ferris wheel gripping the arm of the love of my life, I steady my breath and close my eyes. Horrible thoughts run through my head, but I drown them out with mantras of reassurance. This ride is safe. You will be okay. I get enough courage to pry my eyelids open before the ride jerks forward lowering us a little closer to the ground. My love squeezes my leg and giggles at my anxiety.
That was one of our first dates many years ago, and I ended up marrying that love who still has a knack for thrills. This gene was begrudgingly passed down to our 4-year-old daughter who rides roller coasters with her daddy. As many as she can, as long as the height requirements don’t restrict her enthusiasm. My son inherited my cautious, anxious gene, which means at amusement parks he and I can be found on a nearby bench cheering on the rest of the family.
Born and raised in Florida, I have never lived more than two hours from theme parks. The big ones in fact: Disney, Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens. Taking for granted the lively backyard that was my childhood filled with cotton candy, parades, shows and amusement rides. As a parent, I now realize what a luxury it is to have many fun places so close to visit on a whim.
But after a week with serious injuries and the death of a child at amusement parks, it makes me re-think those reassuring mantras I used to practice all those years ago. How safe are our amusement parks?
The truth is there is no oversight for these rides. No federal government agency for these parks to answer to, and as a mother and taxpayer, it makes me upset. According to the a study published in the May 2013 edition of the Journal Clinical Pediatrics shows that over 4,400 children are injured each year, and over the summer months an average of 20 injuries to children daily. DAILY.
Amusement parks are laissez-faire, and have been since 1981 when it comes to government regulation according to a report by CNN. The man responsible for a loophole making stand-alone amusement parks exempt from federal regulation back in the 1980’s is now changing his tune. John Prager, a former Six Flags Executive and board member of the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) played an instrumental role back in the day ensuring that this loophole be created. So what does he say today?
He gave CNN the following statement:
“We haven’t done enough to make rides safe,” he said. “Amusement parks don’t want regulation because it costs money.”
And that’s what make this mama bear angry. Like most things in this world, it boils down to money, which in this case, is at the cost of the lives of our children. I don’t know about you, but my child’s life is priceless, and the thought that an industry making $12 billion a year would do something to jeopardize that life makes me sick.
When a family walks through the doors of an amusement park, paying their hard-earned money for a day of fun and memories, we shouldn’t have to worry about leaving with a medical bill, or worse. For an industry that is making money hand over fist, investing in our children’s safety is not a lot to ask.
While oversight is left to the states, there are states which have no ride regulation at all. NONE. Some only have regulation requiring the states to carry insurance.Clearly it’s not enough. Most theme parks inspect their own rides before opening everyday, but haven’t we learned over the past week that there is room for improvement?
Fellow parents, it’s up to us to make a change. You have a voice, and the power of your wallet to see to it that children don’t get hurt on amusement park rides. Here’s a list of things you can do to make your next trip to the amusement park as safe as possible.
1. Write or call the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA). Let them know you want ride safety to be a priority. Make your voice heard!
2. Contact your state’s representative. Just like any other law, in order to see any change things must happen in Washington. We must band together to see any action.
3. Always follow rules, regulations, height/weight and medical restrictions posted on rides. Check out saferparks.org, a non-profit organization that works to prevent amusement ride accidents.They have a whole page dedicated to child safety and amusement park rides, as well as a database where you can look up ride injury history by state, age and date.
4. If you see something, say something. If a harness is loose, or a lap belt doesn’t secure correctly, speak up. If you get on a ride, and don’t feel it’s safe, get your family off, and report it to management. The two or three minutes of fun is not worth the potential risk.
5. Opt out. You have the power of the almighty dollar as a consumer to not fork over your money to establishments that may not have your child’s best interest in mind.
Here’s hoping we see changes sooner rather than later. The stakes are too high, the risk is not worth it. Amusement park industry: it’s up to you. We waited in your lines, padded your pocketbook with our piggybanks and put our lives in the hands of your operators. Here’s what you can do for us. Make the rides safer. Agree to oversight, and answering to someone other than your insurance company. Let’s not wait for another tragedy to take action.