WASHINGTON – Each summer, Maryland thrill-seekers climb on carnival rides with such names as “Kamikaze,” “Ring of Fire” and “Wipe Out” without knowing how safe the rides really are.
In most cases, though, neither do state safety officials.
Thousands of amusement rides are whisked all over the country each year, but no formal communication system among states exists regarding the safety of these attractions.
This lack of oversight has driven amusement ride safety officials in Maryland, six other states and the Canadian province of Ontario to consider adopting a central ride identification and inspection system, officials say. But whether Maryland officials will get the funds and legislative support to adopt the system remains in doubt.
The project, spearheaded by the Council for Amusement and Recreational Equipment Safety, aims to fill a major safety gap in the industry by creating the first nationwide database on ride safety. CARES is a voluntary organization of ride safety officials from 25 states, one county and two Canadian provinces, and is aided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“What we’re moving toward is to take data from states and . . . post it on the Web, where states can log on,” said Mark Mooney, the council’s president and chief of ride inspections in Massachusetts. “The intention would be to allow jurisdictions to post their own inspections.”
The groups are hoping a national tracking system would help stem the estimated 2,500 injuries requiring a trip to the emergency room that occurred in 2004 among passengers of mobile amusement rides.
Officials in Maryland, Massachusetts and New York acknowledged that the scarcity of communication between states regarding amusements sometimes allows unsafe or problematic rides to stay in operation by crossing state lines.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting,” said Joseph D. Gallagher, president of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials and a program manager with the New York Department of Labor. “We’ve had shows come in with red (violations) tags on their rides from the last state they were in.”
The traveling amusement ride industry is regional, with some East Coast shows zipping from Florida to Canada and back each year, said Rob McGeeney, Maryland’s chief inspector of amusement ride safety.
While Maryland requires carnival rides to be inspected at every show, some states call for only one inspection per year, Mooney said.
Last year, amusement companies in at least 18 different states — including one from Arizona — operated amusement rides in Maryland, according to a state database of ride inspections. Of the 11 rides inspected after a complaint or injury, five were from another state.
“There are companies that travel from state to state and then go south (for the winter),” Mooney said. “The question is: When is the work getting done?”
The surest answer to that question is a national database, Mooney said. There is a part solution: the United States Amusement ID program, which tags rides with a unique ID number and a state-issued sticker — but it’s little used.
In the six years since CARES started the program, only four states — Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma — have signed on. Others, such as Maryland, are interested, but taking a wait-and-see approach as they try to upgrade their own inspection systems.
“There’s been some movement afoot about sharing databases, but each jurisdiction has its funding issues too,” said Craig Lowry, deputy commissioner of labor and industry in the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. “But we’d like to be a part of that if it happens.”
Besides funding, another major obstacle is incongruity among state inspection systems, Mooney said. Maryland, like a handful of other states, maintains ride information in a computer database, while some states keep only paper records. Maryland also issues its own ride identification numbers, which are stamped on a metal tag and posted on rides.
McGeeney, Maryland’s inspections chief, said a few amusement companies avoid Maryland due to the state’s stringent standards.
“Some shows have chosen not to stop in Maryland anymore because they don’t want to put up with us,” McGeeney said. “In some cases, they had trouble getting rides open here because of problems they had.”
Persuading Maryland and other states to buy into the USAID system is a tall order, Mooney said. Many agencies would have to push for new legislation and more funding.
Until the past decade, states turned a blind eye to ride safety because many rides were so rudimentary that they didn’t have an operator’s manual, Gallagher said.
“Now they’re tremendous — they’re computer-driven,” he said. “They’re turning more people in more directions than you want to think about.”
As a result, many states — including most of the East Coast — are paying more attention, Gallagher said. But officials said they still see out-of-state rides with lost or damaged parts.
Despite the legal and financial complications, Mooney is aiming high: He wants to start building the database by the end of the year.
“Once states begin adopting that (USAID) number,” he said, “we can then begin sharing the data behind the number.”
– 30 – CNS-3-24-06