North Carolina’s strict oversight of amusement rides should put riders at ease
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - From the Cape Fear Fair and Expo to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, amusement parks, fairs, and waterparks attract thousands of visitors each year, but there are risks associated with these attractions. From injuries like whiplash to even deaths, the consequences of unsafe rides and injuries caused by rider and operator error can be devastating.
From 2017-2021, roughly 186,000 people were treated in emergency rooms across the country for injuries stemming from amusement rides, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Fortunately, for those looking to get their thrills on rollercoasters or waterslides in North Carolina, state inspections are mandatory --- and thorough.
“North Carolina is one of the strictest states there is there’s actual states out there that do not require any ride inspection,” Tommy Petty, Bureau Chief for the N.C. Department of Labor’s Amusements and Elevators inspections said.
Accidents do happen, but for the most part, the most common cause of injury is due to the riders and operators of the rides themselves, not because of unsafe equipment Petty said.
“The rider error is like somebody that brings a little child out and puts them on kiddie ride --- this is an actual incident --- then they go somewhere else and the little gentleman climbed out of the car and got hit by a next car --- he was he was only bruised; he was not seriously hurt,” he said.
From traditional amusement park rides like rollercoasters to bumper cars and inflatables (like bounce houses or slides), the state’s inspection process helps ensure riders are as safe as possible.
“We treat each ride as if our children or grandchildren are going to ride this device. I have three granddaughters and any device has got a sticker on it and properly inspected in North Carolina, I would not have a problem with them writing it. The other thing is public safety not only for the citizens of North Carolina, but for the visitors to this state,” Petty said.
The number of injuries across the country can be difficult to track down as some states do not require incident reporting, however, in North Carolina, anything more serious than a minor cut or scrape does have to be reported.
“Incident resulting in death or injury requiring medical treatment, other than first aid, by a physician,” according to SafePark USA.
But not ever state takes these comprehensive efforts.
In South Carolina for example, inspections are conducted by third-party inspectors who are licensed by the state, but rides are only required to be inspected annually, regardless if they move locations. In Alabama, there are no requirements in place for inspections or reporting of incidents at the state level, according to SafePark USA.
The site lists North Carolina as one of several states with what they call ‘comprehensive government oversight,” and Petty says that means these rides are closely monitored.
“It’s just a very detailed inspection on every piece we see. We do not slack on kiddie ride, we take kiddie rides just as much as we would take a huge adult ride,” he said.
Those efforts appear to be paying off.
The Town of Carolina Beach attracts thousands of people every year to enjoy the sun and the sand, but one of the town’s most popular attractions --- the boardwalk and amusement rides.
“We do require, and certain manufacturers are requiring a corrosion inspection. Because of you have enclosed tubing as welded on both ends where you can’t see what’s going on inside there and a lot of this that will corrode and rusted from the inside out and you don’t see it until it’s too late,” Petty said.
Deb LeCompte has lived in Carolina Beach for years and is a member of Town Council, she said the focus the town has put on making Carolina Beach a family destination has attracts lots of new visitors, and the rides on the boardwalk are a major draw. She says she can’t think of any major incidents on the rides, and the town’s Fire Chief Alan Griffin agrees.
“I think back over the last 11 summers, and there’s probably only two or three incidences, and none of those involved the mechanics, or the patrons on the rides getting injured,” he said.
In Southeastern North Carolina the Department of Labor stays busy inspecting rides, over the past three years they’ve inspected more than 600 rides in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender counties. So for those planning a trip to any sort of amusement park in North Carolina, as long as you see a valid inspection sticker on the rides, you can be more confident in the safety efforts taken to make sure your day of fun, doesn’t turn into a disaster.
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