July 23 2013
Vicki E. Alger
In response to the tragedy at Six Flags in Texas, where a woman fell to her death from the Texas Giant roller coaster, federal regulators are coming to the rescue with miles of red tape to save us…but from what exactly nobody knows.
This is not their first attempt to regulate the thrill—I mean danger—right out of people’s lives. Back in 2001 Reason’s Foundation’s Michael Lynch wrote of the feds’ attempts to regulate amusement rides. But as CNN reported there are no federal theme park roller coaster regulations…yet:
‘While the cause of this tragic accident is still unknown, one thing is clear: Roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight,’ Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, said in statement Monday. ‘A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour. This is a mistake.’
In the spirit of full disclosure, no one’s more terrified of roller coasters than I am. I can’t even watch people on TV ride them without getting queasy—an infinite source of hilarity for my husband and stepsons who are all scary ride enthusiasts.
But what scares me even more than adrenaline-inducing theme park rides is the delusion that federal regulations makes us safer.
The Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (yes, this is a real agency) reports that unintentional injuries rank fifth among the top 10 causes of death (across all age groups). Some 121,000 people die each year because of them. Three-fourths of unintentional injuries involve traffic accidents, poisoning, or falls (click submit, then any “Unintended Injury” icon for detailed table).
How can this be? We have a U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We have the Food and Drug Administration—and let’s not forget the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates well over 700 products not to mention amusement rides at traveling carnivals or fairs.
If that weren’t enough, there are at least a dozen more federal safety and protection organizations ostensibly looking out for us—that’s even before turning to all the state regulatory agencies that oversee any number of activities, including theme park ride safety.
An investigation into the cause or causes of the Six Flags tragedy is underway. If negligence or lax oversight contributed, the guilty parties will be held responsible under existing laws and regulations. That fact is likely small consolation to grieving family members—but neither is more federal regulation.