Lawmakers look to regulate NC zip line industry

SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - It's important to be harnessed, clipped and strapped in before you zip, but some zip line courses in North Carolina have had tragic accidents, and aren't regulated by the state.

Representative Ted Davis Jr. from New Hanover County wants to set new ground rules. Davis' cousin, Sanders Burney, from Wilmington, died at a YMCA camp in 2015 when she fell from a zip line. Burney was tethered in, but the line became tangled with another line.

Davis proposed Sanders' Law last year. The bill would mandate annual inspections of zip line courses and equipment, implement state standards for operator training and require companies to report accidents.

Davis said the bill also suggests criminal penalties for those who don't follow proposed regulations.

"The reason that I've been pursuing this bill is that the industry has to be regulated," Davis said.

"Those of us who have been in the industry for a long time that know this industry very well are already doing all of those things that you spoke of," George Howard, general manager of the Shallotte River Swamp Park, said.

The Shallotte River Swamp Park has a zip line course, and Howard said the park is an insured member of two different safety and standard associations.

The park also makes everyone who is zip lining sign a waiver, go through ground school — which is walking through zip lining on the ground before going in the air — and do routine inspections.

Howard said if the state wants to add another layer of regulations, those regulations should be designed by industry experts, not politicians.

"We also have to remember that over-regulating small businesses irresponsibly doesn't help anybody either," he said. "It's important to make sure that if we're going to regulate that we do it responsibly to handle the bad eggs."

Davis doesn't like the idea of having industry insiders create and enforce the regulations.

"Don't you think having someone in the industry regulate it would be like putting a fox in the hen house?" Davis asked.

Howard said he is ready and willing to work with the state, but advised that in the meantime, the first line of defense can come straight from the customer.

"Know where you're sending your youth. Know where you yourself is going. Ask the questions," he said. "Are you yourself a part of an association? Are you doing third party inspections? Are you doing all of these things that we just spoke about to make sure it's a responsible course?"

Davis said he wants the zip lining industry to have a seat at the table with this bill, but believes the time has come to finally get some kind of oversight.

The bill is in the House Finance Committee and could potentially be heard in May.

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