After Texas Giant Accident, Amusement Park Regulations Questioned

There’s been a lot of discussion about the horrible accident that occurred last Friday when a woman fell from the Texas Giant and died. Many have been surprised that there will be no state or federal oversight during the investigation into the accident. States differ in how they regulate amusement ride safety. In Texas, it’ll be up to Six Flags to conduct their own investigation now that foul play has been ruled out and the local police will not be involved.

The L.A. Times was able to get this statement about the investigation from a Six Flags Over Texas spokesperson:

“Friday’s accident remains under investigation by both company and external experts,” it said. “Until complete, we will not comment or speculate on what happened.” – Los Angeles Times

The external experts likely include people from Gerstlauer, the company that designed New Texas Giant’s trains. It’s been reported that they were going to come to the park for the investigation. Read more here: Texas Roller Coaster Death: Manufacturer Sends Investigators

Senator Markey & Others Call for Greater Regulation

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is proposing federal regulation for all amusement parks:

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) renewed a call Sunday for federal regulation of “roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops.” Markey, newly elected to the Senate, had introduced such legislation when he served in the House.

“A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour,” Markey said in a statement. “This is a mistake.”

Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety analyst described the amusement ride industry as a “self-regulated” place where “we write our own rules.” He went on to share that there’s no national database of ride accidents and no law requiring parks to report accidents. He also seemed skeptical of Six Flags’ ability to do an unbiased investigation.

“There’s a good analogy, one a farmer would use: Would you want a fox guarding your henhouse?” he asked.
Los Angeles Times

Read more: Loose rules leave Six Flags to investigate itself for park death

The Argument Against Government Regulation & For the Free Market

On the other side of this argument are those that believe that regulation at the state or federal level is not needed and could hurt the amusement industry. They feel that the market will take care of itself; meaning it’s in Six Flags best interest to make their rides as safe as possible. If they don’t people will lose confidence in their rides and stop visiting their parks.

My Take – Some Regulation is Needed

I fall a bit on the fence on this issue. There are probably some things, like the reporting of accidents, that should probably be a no-brainer, but I don’t feel strongly that total government oversight is needed. Ride accidents are still very, very, very rare. You have a 1 in 24 million chances of being injured on a ride. We also don’t know for sure that with federal regulations that accidents like this wouldn’t happen. Also, the government would need to have ride safety experts and not just safety experts from other fields.

I’ve been following Avery Safety Consulting on Twitter (@ridesafety) for quite a while. I caught Bill Avery on TV a few times and I like his quote towards the end of the “Loose rules” article. Basically, he feels that an unbiased, fresh set of eyes would be good, but didn’t feel as strongly that Six Flags couldn’t do a good job. It’s completely in their best interest to do so.

I definitely feel that something needs to be done in terms of the New Texas Giant accident. We’ll see what details the investigation unearths, but this ride and similar rides may need to be modified or have their riding policies adjusted.

Media Coverage: Robb Alvey on Headline News

Any time roller coasters are covered in the media it’s interesting to see how they’re viewed what the angle of the story is. When I was on Fox Business, there was slight attempt to sensationalize the injury numbers a bit, but that was a study. I’d expect the coverage of this accident to be different for a number of reasons. Anyway, I think Robb did a great job.

Best quote: “I would take my wife and daughter and put them on the Texas Giant tomorrow.” I think I’d wait until the investigation is done, but I like the point he made. It’s a great way to illustrate confidence in how safe roller coasters really are.

Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas Has Been Closed

In related news, Iron Rattler at sister park Six Flags Fiesta Texas has been closed. That ride is similar in design to New Texas Giant and shares the same Gerstlauer-designed trains.

What’s Your Take?

Where do you fall within the spectrum? Do you feel that government regulation of some kind is necessary to make rides more safe? Or do you feel that the current system in place is sufficient? Leave a comment below.