After Texas Giant Accident, Amusement Park Regulations Questioned

Theme Park News

There’s been a lot of discussion about the horrible accident that occurred last Friday when a woman fell from the Texas Giant and died. Many have been surprised that there will be no state or federal oversight during the investigation into the accident. States differ in how they regulate amusement ride safety. In Texas, it’ll be up to Six Flags to conduct their own investigation now that foul play has been ruled out and the local police will not be involved.

The L.A. Times was able to get this statement about the investigation from a Six Flags Over Texas spokesperson:

“Friday’s accident remains under investigation by both company and external experts,” it said. “Until complete, we will not comment or speculate on what happened.” – Los Angeles Times

The external experts likely include people from Gerstlauer, the company that designed New Texas Giant’s trains. It’s been reported that they were going to come to the park for the investigation. Read more here: Texas Roller Coaster Death: Manufacturer Sends Investigators

Senator Markey & Others Call for Greater Regulation

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is proposing federal regulation for all amusement parks:

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) renewed a call Sunday for federal regulation of “roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops.” Markey, newly elected to the Senate, had introduced such legislation when he served in the House.

“A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour,” Markey said in a statement. “This is a mistake.”

Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety analyst described the amusement ride industry as a “self-regulated” place where “we write our own rules.” He went on to share that there’s no national database of ride accidents and no law requiring parks to report accidents. He also seemed skeptical of Six Flags’ ability to do an unbiased investigation.

“There’s a good analogy, one a farmer would use: Would you want a fox guarding your henhouse?” he asked.
Los Angeles Times

Read more: Loose rules leave Six Flags to investigate itself for park death

The Argument Against Government Regulation & For the Free Market

On the other side of this argument are those that believe that regulation at the state or federal level is not needed and could hurt the amusement industry. They feel that the market will take care of itself; meaning it’s in Six Flags best interest to make their rides as safe as possible. If they don’t people will lose confidence in their rides and stop visiting their parks.

My Take – Some Regulation is Needed

I fall a bit on the fence on this issue. There are probably some things, like the reporting of accidents, that should probably be a no-brainer, but I don’t feel strongly that total government oversight is needed. Ride accidents are still very, very, very rare. You have a 1 in 24 million chances of being injured on a ride. We also don’t know for sure that with federal regulations that accidents like this wouldn’t happen. Also, the government would need to have ride safety experts and not just safety experts from other fields.

I’ve been following Avery Safety Consulting on Twitter (@ridesafety) for quite a while. I caught Bill Avery on TV a few times and I like his quote towards the end of the “Loose rules” article. Basically, he feels that an unbiased, fresh set of eyes would be good, but didn’t feel as strongly that Six Flags couldn’t do a good job. It’s completely in their best interest to do so.

I definitely feel that something needs to be done in terms of the New Texas Giant accident. We’ll see what details the investigation unearths, but this ride and similar rides may need to be modified or have their riding policies adjusted.

Media Coverage: Robb Alvey on Headline News

Any time roller coasters are covered in the media it’s interesting to see how they’re viewed what the angle of the story is. When I was on Fox Business, there was slight attempt to sensationalize the injury numbers a bit, but that was a study. I’d expect the coverage of this accident to be different for a number of reasons. Anyway, I think Robb did a great job.

Best quote: “I would take my wife and daughter and put them on the Texas Giant tomorrow.” I think I’d wait until the investigation is done, but I like the point he made. It’s a great way to illustrate confidence in how safe roller coasters really are.

Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas Has Been Closed

In related news, Iron Rattler at sister park Six Flags Fiesta Texas has been closed. That ride is similar in design to New Texas Giant and shares the same Gerstlauer-designed trains.

What’s Your Take?

Where do you fall within the spectrum? Do you feel that government regulation of some kind is necessary to make rides more safe? Or do you feel that the current system in place is sufficient? Leave a comment below.

20 Comments

  1. I do think there should be some kind of oversight into accidents only. They should maybe be more aggressive about using those sizing belts, and add a safety belt to rides like this.

    • Agreed if the accident happened the way some of us think, then sizing belts might be the way to go. And you’re right they should be used more consistently. New Texas Giant isn’t Bizarro, but they have enough similarities that maybe any ride like that should have sizing belts.

      • Did the T-Bar restraint come unhinged? If so there is nothing stopping you from being flung out of the car. If not a seat belt would have been a second defense against coming out of your seat. Seat belts should absolutely be required on all rides along with the T-bar pull down. There should also be bars attached to the car itself for you to hold onto as El Toro at Six Flags NJ has. El Toro has belts as well.

        I rode Nitro at Six Flags NJ, and there was only a T-bar, and no seat belt, and nothing else to hold onto except the T-Bar. If it unlocked, you would be a goner.

        Six Flags # 1 priority must be rider safety and having fail-safe, redundant restraints is the only way to accomplish this. They must require all coaster manufacturers to build this requirement into their rides, and if they don’t, Six Flags should take their business elsewhere.

        • All rides have redundency built into them. At a minimum there is two systems of redundency. On Texas Giant there is two hydrolic systems per lap bar so if one fails you still have another. Most coasters have two ratcheting systems. The chance of a failure of the locking mechinism is slim (not impossible but pretty close to it) the only ways one could fail is if it wasn’t properly maintained, it was overload (this would take a couple of tons of pressure, there for its nearly impossible) or it wasn’t properly locked (highly improbable)

  2. I am 100% opposed to Congress sticking it’s nose in to yet one more thing it knows absolutely nothing about. It figures someone would be calling for more regulation before we even know what happened in this instance. And there’s no guarantee that any eventual regulations would prevent such accidents.

    http://www.iaapa.org/safety-and-advocacy/safety/amusement-ride-safety/regulations-standards

    “44 state governments regulate amusement parks. The six without state oversight are Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah. These states contain few, if any amusement parks (Wyoming has no parks).”

    Sounds like the states have things under control. Maybe they need to beef up their regulations, but the federal government needs stay out of it. That will only drive up the costs of rides and parks.

  3. I absolutely agree that there may be a need for a third party set of eyes but let’s not allow the government to get involved and make a royal mess out of it like they have of so many other things in our country.

  4. I don’t think the government needs to be completely involved but on serious incidents like this they can inspect or another third party could get involved. Going to the senators quote i think a roller coaster with all the safety measures and fail safes a roller coaster is safer than a stroller and amusement industry can take care of it self without the governments nose. I think if the government gets involved the number of extreme rides will lessen ride will have higher restrictions like height and safety harness’s will go overboard. I do think that the overall size of a person should be a restriction.

  5. I am against federal regulation. And not just because I think our current hoard in Washington is comprised of idiots who think the Government can solve problems by making asinine rules. It can and would completely destroy creative engineering in the industry.

  6. I too am against federal regulation but strongly in favor of rigorous training for ride ops. In a seasonal business with frequent turnovers, it’s not always easy to get experienced ride ops. I hesitate to say this because it’s pure speculation but I’ve seen photographs of the unfortunate victim and my take is that she was probably too large to safely fit into the restraints on Texas Giant and the ride ops should have known this. I have personally observed ride ops, sometimes in pairs, exerting as much force as possible to push lap bars down on riders over the size limit for which the rides were designed. If extraordinary measures are necessary to secure the restraints, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong. Again, this is speculation and the tragedy might have been merely a freak accident but I do think that there is a problem in terms of restraints not being full secured. This applies equally to both large and average-size riders. I am fairly slender and often feel that there is too much space between me and the lap bar so frequently ask ride ops to push the restraint down as far
    as it will go. I shouldn’t have to ask.

    • I completely agree with you ride ops need better training. With how much parks focus on height they should start focusing on size. People just don’t see this as a problem and in some cases like at universal orlando people have sued over being taken off rides for size problems so the industry is scared to take these measures even when necessary

    • I agree about training for ride ops, but that definitely falls on those in charge to come up with more stringent and widely adopted guidelines. Ride ops are basically just doing what they’re told. And I also agree that they probably shouldn’t be using all their weight to push down on restraints and squeeze someone into a ride, but again, they just need new guidelines and more consistent rules.

      Speculation ahead……
      I’m most concerned about the system that allowed a rider to be dispatched when they weren’t actually properly secured. By the system, I mean the green light that had to be present to allow the train to be dispatched. This is speculation, but the prevailing theory is that the system was okay with how low the bar was AND there was no way for the it to know that the restraint was not resting in the appropriate area (assuming it was on her belly and not her upper thigh/waist).

      Now, maybe the ride ops could restrict access to anyone who can’t have the lap bar positioned in the right area, but these guidelines haven’t been established. So, if this is how the accident happened, the ride ops cannot be blamed for dispatching this woman. They were following protocol.

  7. If there werent already, hey need to use seat belts on texas giant. Seat belts could have actually prevented this incident.

    • Maybe, maybe not. I’m not a ride engineer, but I don’t think we can say that for sure a seat belt would have prevented this if the seat belt wasn’t in the proper position just as we think the lap bar might not have been.

  8. What do people think about Iron Rattler being closed as a result of the tragedy on Texas Giant? I understand that in the wake of this disaster, Six Flags has to exercise an overabundance of caution, but only partially understand why Iron Rattler has been singled out. OK, so both coasters were built by Rocky Mountain Construction, which did an outstanding job on Outlaw Run – one of the best coasters I’ve had the pleasure of riding – and has an excellent reputation. Do you think that closing IR is really necessary?

  9. Just visited Fiesta Texas yesterday and given that the situation is still being investigated, I was pleased to see the Iron Rattler closed as a precaution. It demonstrates reasonable caution on the part of the park operator and made me comfortable with riding the other rides since I felt the situation was being appropriately handled. Don’t take me wrong, there was an added level of “fear” or feeling of danger this close on the heels of such a tragedy but we still rode the rides.

    Had that ride not been closed, I would have been forced to make an unpopular decision for my kids and they probably would have resented me for it. This way, we didn’t even have to have the conversation. I just told them it was closed because the park was trying to be extra safe. They were disappointed since it was going to be their first time on it (closed last year for construction) but I also may have sensed a little relief too.

  10. Yes, with Rocky Mountain Construction and Gerstlauer involved with both Iron Rattler and Texas Giant, Six Flags probably cannot afford to take any chances. According to what I’ve just read, the tragedy has repercussions which extend beyond Six Flags parks. I don’t know that this is official but another website has received reports to the effect that because Outlaw Run is a RMC product, the restraints are being locked down to a 36″ waist.

  11. I only weigh 250 lbs but still cannot fit into any new roller coasters which is a big let down. Everyone says Americans are getting bigger but the rides are made for those that are smaller. I guess what I am saying is I don’t care what they do anymore. They obviously do not want business from an individual that is overweight. And don’t tell me it is too much of a strain on the system to have 50 extra pounds on a car, if that is the case, these things really are unsafe!

    • I don’t want to sound mean I have nothing against overweight people personally. I think the ride industry is just making restraints smaller to make them safer not because they don’t want heavy people on a ride so don’t blame the ride industry that you can’t fit in a ride I think that is your own problem.

  12. OK… so, I keep seeing statements from “witnesses” on the rollercoaster ejection several weeks ago at Six Flags Over Texas saying that the ride operator told the woman, “As long as you hear a click, you’re good.”

    I’ve ridden the New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and the Iron Rattler (43 times) at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Both coasters’ cars are made by the same manufacturer. The statement that, “As long as you hear a click”, is false, misleading and wrong. The cars and their restraint systems are hydraulic NOT mechanical. There is no “click”. The lap bars rotate into position and green LEDs inside the car indicate that the lap bar is in a ‘go/no-go’ position. The ride WILL NOT operate if the restraints are in the ‘no-go” position. In my personal opinion, the woman’s size played the ultimate factor. If the human body cannot be restrained at the hip/mid-thigh on both of these coasters, the person is not properly secured.

    Also, how could the witness who was talking about “clicks” on the restraint system since you can’t see the ride from inside the loading station? There is NO WAY she could have seen the victim fall out of the coaster, if she was in the loading dock and “witnessed” the victim being loaded into the car. The sight lines simply aren’t there. Once the train leaves the station, the only way to see the ride is from well back in the line and not from the loading station.

    It’s doubtful that ride operators would have been able to determine if the lap bar was in the proper position to restrain someone of her size. It’s happened before, at other amusement parks. A 55-year-old man was ejected from a coaster in 2004 under similar circumstances at Six Flags New England. Not only was he large in size, but he also had cerebral palsy (which probably DID NOT play a role in the
    accident). According to news reports, he walked up and got on the ride himself and had ridden the rollercoaster several times before the ejection occurred.

    A computer simulation of the accident is available on the web.

    I would really like to find out the results of the Texas Giant investigation.

  13. I think this is more of a six flags problem than a world problem. At Cedar Fair Parks, they make sure you get checked before getting on the ride. If you can’t fit, you have to get out. when I visited Six Flags Over Georgia, they didn’t really do much. They barely checked the seats and didn’t really check anything before locking the train. Now this woman who fell out looked a little heavy. The lap bar probably didn’t go down all the way because of weight. As much as I feel bad for this woman and her family, she did have the option of getting out even though the operator told her that it was fine.

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