Not So Amusing

Don't expect state or federal regulators to investigate the still unexplained death of a 4-year-old who lost and never regained consciousness recently during a ride on Disney World's "Mission: Space" at Epcot.

Since 1981, amusement parks at fixed sites have had a special exemption from federal regulation that doesn't apply to any other consumer product. And state officials? Many states don't regulate rides or require public reporting of accidents. Florida does, but it exempts big parks like Disney.

Don't worry, says Beth Robertson of the International Association of Amusement Parks. Your chances of being injured seriously enough to be hospitalized overnight is one in 10 million; of being killed, one in 790 million.

"What the industry does is divide the number of injuries and deaths into their guesstimate of the number of people who visit the parks times the number of rides they take," says David Moulton, spokesman for Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). If you measure by miles traveled, park rides are safer than cars but more dangerous than buses, trains and planes.

News reports compiled at www.rideaccidents.com document five deaths on park rides in each of the past two years, and three so far this year. By various estimates, there were 5,500 injuries from park rides treated in emergency rooms in 2002. About 2,000 of those injuries were at so-called "fixed sites," while the remainder were on "mobile rides," such as those at carnivals and fairs.

A Markey bill that would end the special exemption died in a House committee last month. "All we are asking is that when something bad happens, a federal investigator be allowed into the park, make sure problems are corrected, and insure the correction is made to that same ride in every state," said Moulton.

Kathy Fackler, whose son lost part of his foot in 1998 on a roller coaster in Disneyland, says the amusement park industry has a good safety record. "So does the airline industry," she says. "But if there's a crash, do you want the airline investigating themselves?" Fackler, founder of La Jolla, Calif.-based Safer Parks, has safety tips and other consumer info at www.saferparks.org.

Markey plans to introduce other legislation this year that would require ride operators to be at least 18. Currently, massive machines in some parks are operated by kids still too young to drive a car.

fee watch

In Case of Bankruptcy . . .

If you end up holding a ticket on a U.S. airline that goes belly up, other U.S. carriers are required to try to get you on board -- but now they may charge up to $50 each way. On overseas flights, they may also pass along any fees charged by a foreign government.

That's the latest change to a post-9/11 rule issued by the Department of Transporation after terrorist attacks threatened the viability of already struggling airlines. Previously, the fee cap was $25.

DOT also issued consumer-friendly clarifications:

* Airlines must permit consumers to travel on a "space available" basis on the date of their original ticket, or as soon thereafter as space is available -- meaning they can't turn you away just because they don't have room the day you originally were booked to fly.

* A carrier must provide substitute service even if its flights go to a nearby alternate airport, or if they offer only connecting service.

The law, extended several times, is slated to expire Nov. 19.


Norwegian Cruise Lines is being sued by some passengers who were aboard the ship hit by a rogue wave earlier this year. The suit claims that the line knowingly put passengers in danger by heading into stormy seas, in part because the ship was rushing to New York in time to be included in a Donald Trump reality show . . . Reagan National and Dulles will each get a "puffer" machine by the end of summer. The security device, which shoots a puff of air at passengers, can detect traces of explosives.

Reporting: Cindy Loose.

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