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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Safer Amusement Rides

July 22, 2001

Earlier this month, a revamped Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin reopened at Disneyland, almost a year after a preschooler suffered severe injury after being trapped underneath the ride.

While the safety of theme park rides long has been a concern, something important happened differently this time. State regulatory officials played a significant role in supervising the aftermath of an accident because they were given new oversight as a result of legislation enacted in 1999. That won't undo the suffering endured by one family, but it's an important sign that for one ride, at least, a coordinated effort has been made to help prevent future tragedy.

Improving theme-park safety in the past has moved at glacial speed, with progress often coming only after an accident or under duress of litigation. Simply getting the legislation took years of fending off industry lobbying.

Last month, after twice being fined by a judge, the Walt Disney Co. agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to settle a lawsuit with a woman who said she suffered a brain hemorrhage on another Disneyland ride, the Indiana Jones Adventure. That was only days before a court-imposed deadline ordering the company to turn over a list of patrons who had suffered brain injuries at its theme parks.

The renovations on the Roger Rabbit ride came as a result of close state scrutiny. When the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued a report on the preschooler's accident last year, it told Disney that it had to retrain employees on loading procedure and to fix design problems. It said that young Brandon Zucker had been seated in the wrong place on the ride and that the lap bar may not have been lowered properly. Disney disputed the state's findings and denied wrongdoing.

While the safety of the rides cannot always be guaranteed at all times under all circumstances, this appears to be an instance in which a theme-park operator and the state worked together to make substantial improvements. Automatic latching doors, sensor-equipped bumpers and other improvements were installed. The state expressed satisfaction with the result.

Having state oversight is an important new tool to improve theme-park safety rides.

Unfortunately, progress has come very slowly.

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