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Disney fights safety oversight - Orlando Sentinel, 6/19/05


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  • Disney fights safety oversight - Orlando Sentinel, 6/19/05

    "There may be something we can learn from this incident," said Ken Martin, an independent ride inspector and consultant based in Virginia. "But we can't because there's no federal investigation."

    Federal officials lack authority to investigate incidents such as the one last week because of a legal exemption Congress passed in 1981. It allows the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate mobile rides at carnivals but not fixed rides at theme parks.

    "As long as the law specifically exempts amusement-park rides from the oversight of our nation's consumer-safety agency, there will be significant likelihood of other families on other rides becoming future victims," Markey said. "That is wrong."

    For example, Florida's largest amusement parks, including Walt Disney World, are exempt from state regulations that require mandatory reporting of injuries and give the state authority to shut down and inspect rides.

    Although Disney voluntarily reports some accidents, what it has agreed to tell the state is less than what the law requires of carnivals and smaller parks, according to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the state's largest theme-park companies.

    Disney has a tougher regulatory environment in California. Just last week, the state Supreme Court ruled against Disney in a case that increases safety standards on thrill rides from "reasonable care" to "utmost care and diligence."

    Had last week's incident occurred in California, Disney would have had to shut the ride down and summon state officials, who would decide about reopening it.

    In Florida, Disney World's own ride inspectors cleared Mission: Space to reopen the morning after the boy died. They said the simulated space ride, which spins riders in a giant centrifuge, was functioning normally.

    The attraction, one of the most popular rides at Disney World, has helped increase attendance at Epcot. But since the ride's debut in the summer of 2003, several passengers have complained of experiencing motion sickness and chest pains. Motion-sickness bags were added in late 2003.

    Although Disney boasts one of the highest safety standards in the business, the company has often resisted efforts for additional regulation.

    Florida state Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, said Disney fought his efforts to pass legislation to strengthen state inspections of amusement-park rides in the late 1980s.

    Disney "threatened to kill it" if the company had to undergo the same inspections as fairs and small carnivals, Geller said, but a compromise was worked out, and the law passed.
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