Tyre Sampson fell from the Orlando FreeFall drop tower, which takes riders up and then drops them nearly 400 feet at speeds that reach more than 75 mph, according to ICON Park, where the incident happened.
There were also questions about whether Tyre was too big for the ride. “My son was 6’5, 340. So, he’s a big guy,” said Tyre’s father, Yarnell Sampson.
In an effort to gain a better understanding of the larger issue of regulation in the amusement park industry, CNN examined safety reports and spoke with experts about park operations and why they don’t have federal oversight.
Who regulates amusement parks?
Typically, state agencies have oversight, according to Randy King, a safety consultant based in Houston, Texas, who has over 30 years of experience in the safety and amusement park industry.
What’s the history behind the regulation system?
A state’s department of agriculture normally regulates amusement parks or at least fixed (or immovable) rides, according to Martin Lewison, an associate professor at Farmingdale University in New York who was dubbed by The New York Times as “Professor Roller Coaster.”
That’s because parks began as traveling businesses that would turn up at US agricultural fairs — farmers would show up with a prized pumpkin or cow and then a showman brought the rides, Lewison said.
“It was always the agricultural institutions that were in charge of these sorts of events and that led to a modern-day regulatory structure where — in most states — some branch of the state department of agriculture has oversight over fixed rides,” he said.
As the size of the amusement park industry ballooned in the last century, some elements came under federal supervision. But the industry balked at the oversight.
“(The) industry pushed back for many years on federal oversight on fixed amusement rides,” Lewiston said.
So, why aren’t amusement parks federally regulated?
King and Lewison say the answer to this is simple: The industry would not benefit from federal oversight.
“It could make things worse,” King said, adding that getting the federal government involved does not make things better.
To that point, Lewison said involvement from the feds would cost the industry too much.
“They would have to now deal separately with a federal regulatory agency that would suddenly become responsible for every fixed-site amusement ride in the United States,” he said.
There are thousands of fixed amusement rides across the country, many of which are family entertainment centers with go-karts and/or a kiddy roller coaster.
“The industry obviously doesn’t want that extra cost of dealing with a new set of rules and regulations because a lot of these companies are small companies that don’t make a huge amount of profits. There’s only so many Six Flags and Disneys out there,” Lewison said.
“So for them, it’s fairly easy to accommodate additional costs. But for many small businesses, which is the majority of the industry, any additional costs can be devastating in terms of their bottom line,” he said.
Both King and Lewison told CNN they thought state agencies were doing a great job regulating amusement parks.
“Safety culture is already heavily built into the industry,” Lewison said.
How often do people die on amusement park rides?
It’s very rare for someone to die, let alone get injured on a ride at an amusement park. The safety record of the amusement park industry is amazing, Lewison said, and ride designers are serious about their work and safety.
“The amusement industry operates with the understanding that one injury is one too many and there is an impressive effort made by industry safety professionals to enhance safety at our facilities,” said Jim Seay, president of the Baltimore-based Premier Rides and a member of the IAAPA safety committee.
“Ride fatalities are extremely rare which is why, like a plane crash, they are covered widely in the news,” Seay said. “Statistically you are safer riding the rides at an amusement park than most other forms of recreation and even the drive to the park although that doesn’t stop the efforts of industry safety experts to focus on making the industry even safer.”
The odds of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride in the US is 1 in 15.5 million, the IAAPA said.
The report also said there were 341 ridership-based injuries, though the report also added that the number is significantly lower than 2019 (1,294) because of the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on the amusement industry in 2020.
“These sorts of accidents are extraordinarily rare,” Lewison said. “You’re still more likely to die falling off a chair than dying on an amusement ride.”
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: The Bloggers Briefing