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Deep Dive: How Colorado regulates amusement park rides

Third party certified inspections and audits part of process
Deep Dive: How Colorado regulates amusement park rides
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 08:24:34-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Investigators are still in the process of determining how a 6-year-old Colorado Springs girl died while on a ride at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and whether anyone is at fault. News5 spoke with state ride regulators and legal experts about how rides are regulated in Colorado.

News5 acquired state inspection records that show the ride in question was was inspected on June 8th of this year and an inspector did sign off on the ride saying it was in compliance with state regulations, but state regulators say they need to know more about how this tragedy happened.

"Our intent in an investigation like this, how tragic it will be is to really to find out exactly what happened and then to put measures in place. Whether that's changing operator manuals, regulations, whatever we have to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. It really depends on what did happen," said Greg Johnson of the CDLE Division of Oil and Public Safety.

When it comes to regulation and oversight on amusement park rides there are federal standards, but the work and the inspections are typically handled at the state level. That's the case in Colorado.

Under the umbrella of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment the Division of Oil and Public Safety is responsible for safety inspections and regulations on rides.

Right now, the state provides oversight on 200 ride operators and about 900 rides in Colorado and also regulates pop-up fairs and carnivals.

"We do have an audit inspector that travels around the state and looks at the set ups of the rides. He can pop in and do a blind audit. He can watch them operate the rides. He can go behind an inspector or after an inspector," said Johnson.

Even with this oversight, sometimes people are required to sign waivers before they can go on rides and by signing, they agree to hold harmless the park and its affiliates for any and all liability.

"Those have generally been upheld in courts. Now there are several exceptions. The most prevalent one is when something bad happens whether it's at an amusement park or an event, or really anywhere. You sign an agreement and something bad happens because of not just negligence where something bad happens, but gross negligence," said legal expert Stephen Longo of The Longo Firm.

News5 looked into inspection records for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and there don't appear to be any recent concerns or violations.

Legal experts say before you sign a liability waiver, the reputation of the place you're visiting matters.

"Their reputation for safety and making sure that bad things aren't happening that are within their control," said Longo.

Studies show ride-related injuries are rare, but they do happen. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions has tracked these issues for years at 177 fixed site amusement parks in North America. This does not include traveling carnivals, fairs, or inflatables.

In 2003, there were 2,044 estimated ride-related injuries. That number has steadily decreased and in 2019 there were 1,294 estimated ride-related injuries. Experts say it's less than one injury per one million rides.

Ultimately, Colorado ride regulators say we have the power to speak up if something seems unsafe.

"So they need to be cognizant of that. If something just doesn't look right, then they should back off and ask some questions," said Johnson.

While state regulators tell me typically rides in our state are operating at 100% compliance things are constantly changing and consumers can report safety concerns and have open access to inspection records upon request.

If you'd like to learn more about the ride regulation process and to have your questions answered...

Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety
Phone: 303-318-8525