The House of Representatives approved legislation yesterday that would give a federal agency power to investigate serious accidents on amusement park rides and act as a national clearinghouse for reports on ride defects.
Proponents of the measure pointed to 12 deaths in amusement park accidents this year, and said the measure would fill a void created in 1981 when the Reagan admininstration stripped the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) of its power to investigate that type of accidents.
The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 300 to 119, still requires action by the Senate, which is unlikely in the waning days of this session, congressional aides said. "But the bill should serve as a benchmark for action in a postelection session or early next year," said aides to Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), the bill's chief sponsor.
Currently, there is no safety inspection program in 25 states, including Virginia, where Kings Dominion was the site of a fatal accident last year on its "Galaxie" roller coaster ride. Maryland, however, has one of the nation's toughest regulatory programs, and the District has one inspector who checks carnival rides.
"When we parents take our children to these amusement parks, we are invited to check our worries at the gate and enter the midway carefree," Simon told his colleagues yesterday. "But it is hard to be carefree when there is mayhem on the midway that no agency is responsible for correcting."
The bill would give the CPSC the authority to mount inspection programs in states and localities that do not have them, but because the commission does not have enough investigators to conduct regular inspections, its role would likely be confined to accident investigations, according to congressional aides.
Opponents of the legislation, led by Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), whose distrist is the home of Disneyland, argued that the measure would discourage, rather than encourage, more state and local inspection programs. He said state and local governments would likely defer to the federal agency, which does not have the manpower to do the job.
The industry charged that commission statistics, showing 10,000 injuries on amusement rides last year, were inflated. The International Association of Amusement Park Attractions argued that the measure's reporting requirements would overburden park operators.
Proponents said parks would be required to report only substantial defects in rides that could cause injuries, so that other parks with the same rides would be on notice about potential problems.
Rep. Marjorie Holt (R) was the only member of the Maryland delegation to vote against the bill. Seven of Virginia's 10 members voted against it: Democrats Dan Daniel, James R. Olin and Norman Sisisky, and Republicans Stanford E. Parris, Thomas J. Bliley, Herbert H. Bateman, whose district includes Busch Gardens, and J. Kenneth Robinson, whose district is the home of Kings Dominion.