CRB California Research Bureau, California State Library

CRB 97-012 August 1997


When we discuss regulating amusement safety, there are four aspects of safety to consider:

  1. Designing rides to be safe
  2. Building rides to be safe
  3. Maintaining rides to be safe
  4. Operating rides to be safe

Designing rides to be safe means more than ensuring the structural integrity of the ride, or ensuring the ride will be safe when used as designed. It also means considering in the design how people might use the ride. For example, if a ride is not safe if more than one person is on it at a time, a safe design would include features to prevent two or more persons from being on the ride at the same time.

Building rides to be safe means to ensure that the ride is built according to the safe design. Maintaining rides to be safe means to ensure that all rides receive proper maintenance.

Operating rides to be safe means two things. First, it means ensuring that operators operate the ride consistent with the design and maintenance requirements. At the very least this means that ride operators know and follow all passenger safety requirements. Second, it means ensuring that riders use the ride consistent with the designed safety requirements. For example, this means ensuring that passengers know to stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.


Many people are surprised to discover that while California does regulate mobile amusement rides and bungee jumping, the State does not directly regulate permanent amusement rides. However, that does not mean that permanent rides are completely unregulated. All permanent rides are subject to local building codes. Also, the State does regulate some aspects of permanent amusement park rides, such as aerial tramways. Finally, private companies, such as insurance companies, and non-governmental agencies, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials, have established standards regarding the design, construction, and operation of permanent rides.

The purpose of this section is twofold. First, we briefly describe how the laws came to be. Second, we describe the State and local laws and other private and non-governmental requirements.

Brief History

For the last 30 years, the history of amusement park safety laws is a history of legislative reaction to high profile accidents. Until the late 1960s, neither California nor the federal government treated amusement parks, carnivals, and rides any different than any other business or piece of equipment. Like most businesses, permanent amusement parks were subject to local building codes. However, they were not subject to any special state or federal oversight. Similarly, traveling carnivals received no special treatment. This began to change because of an accident at the Kern County Fair.15

On September 26, 1967, a teenage girl died when she was thrown from a carnival ride at the Kern County Fair. In response, Assemblymember George Zenovich (D-Fresno) introduced Assembly Bill 888, on March 6, 1968. This bill established the Amusement Rides Safety Law. The bill originally would have regulated all amusement rides in California. However, when the bill reached the Senate floor for a final vote, Senator George Danielson (D-Los Angeles County) amended the bill. His amendments excluded permanent rides from state oversight.

Senator Danielson reportedly said permanent amusement parks, such as Disneyland, requested the amendments because they were already covered by building code provisions.16 More recently, now-lobbyist Zenovich told the Sacramento Bee that the Walt Disney Co. lobbied against the bill arguing that "they had their own safety system and the state shouldn't oversee their operation."17

With those amendments, the bill became law.18 The Amusement Rides Safety Law then went unchallenged for the next ten years.

Nationally, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972.19 The Act established the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC held, and the courts affirmed, that amusement park rides were consumer products.20 Therefore, under other provisions of the Act, the CPSC could and did regularly inspect both permanent and mobile amusement rides.

In 1978 there were a number of serious accidents at California amusement parks. The next year, Senators Bill Greene and Alan Sieroty introduced the first in a series of unsuccessful attempts to remove the state exemption for permanent amusement rides. Others who tried were Assemblymember Richard Floyd in 1981, and Senator John Garamendi in 1987.

In 1983, Senator Ray Johnson carried a bill that clarified and strengthened the Amusement Rides Safety Law. The changes applied only to mobile rides. Most of the provisions previously had been in Assemblymember Floyd's unsuccessful bill. Senator Johnson's bill received wide support. The bill made it through the entire legislative process without a single vote being cast against it and became law.21

Nationally, Congress passed the federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act in 1981.22 One of the provisions of this act removed CPSC's jurisdiction over permanent amusement rides. In 1984 and again in 1985, Paul Simon of Illinois led an effort to reinstate CPSC jurisdiction over permanent rides. Both attempts failed.

On October 27, 1991, a 29-year-old man fell to his death near Perris, California in the nation's first fatal bungee jumping accident. The next year Assemblymember Paul Horcher introduced AB 2778. The bill as enacted specifically included bungee jumping in the list of amusement rides under state regulation.23

By 1996, 10 states had adopted so-called rider responsibility laws. Such laws set down rules of conduct of patrons of the states' amusement parks and theme parks. That year Assemblymember Curt Pringle introduced AB 2482. Sponsored by Knott's Berry Farm, the bill proposed to create the California Rider Safety Act. The bill was heavily amended. Ultimately, the only remaining provisions were those allowing amusement parks to detain and eject persons suspected of violating lawful park rules. It was this stripped down bill that became law.24 This year Assemblymember Pringle has introduced AB 1289 to again try to enact a rider responsibility law.

Current California Laws

California directly regulates mobile amusement rides through the Amusement Rides Safety Law. However, the state does not directly regulate permanent rides or parks. Instead, cities and counties exercise regulatory oversight over permanent rides and parks through local building codes. We describe those laws and regulations next.

Amusement Rides Safety Law

The Amusement Rides Safety Law25 establishes the State's authority to regulate mobile amusement rides. The law defines amusement rides as:

A mechanical device which carries or conveys passengers along, around, or over a fixed or restricted route or course for the purpose of giving its passengers amusement, pleasure, thrills, or excitement. "Amusement ride" includes the business of operating bungee jumping services or providing services to facilitate bungee jumping ...

The following are exempt from the law:

The Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) administers the law. Cal-OSHA also promulgates and formulates rules and regulations for adoption by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. The rules and regulations are to cover the installation, repair, maintenance, use, operation, and inspection of all mobile amusement rides.26 The law states that the rules and regulations are in addition to existing safety orders and are to be concerned with engineering force stresses, safety devices, and preventive maintenance.

The law requires rides to be inspected before they are put into operation for the first time and at least once a year thereafter. Rides may also be inspected each time they are disassembled and reassembled. The inspections must be made by Cal-OSHA's safety inspectors or by a qualified inspector who is approved by the division and is employed by an insurance company or a public entity.27

If a mobile ride causes either a fatality or an injury that requires more than ordinary first aid, the operator must notify Cal-OSHA immediately. If the injury was caused by the failure or malfunction of an amusement ride, the operator must preserve the scene for inspection by Cal-OSHA. If Cal-OSHA's inspection shows the ride to be hazardous or unsafe, Cal-OSHA may order a temporary cessation.

The owner or operator of a mobile amusement ride must have $500,000 liability insurance on file with Cal-OSHA.

Rules and Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has adopted specific regulations governing mobile amusement rides.28 Some of these regulations simply clarify the statutes. For example, the regulations define "public entity" as any city or county. Other regulations set requirements for the design and manufacture of rides. Such requirements include:

The regulations also define the maintenance and assembly and disassembly rules. For example:

Other State of California Laws

Besides the Amusement Rides Safety Law, a number of state laws directly affect the public safety aspects of some amusement park rides and attractions.

Aerial Trams & Gondolas

Cal-OSHA also has jurisdiction over aerial passenger tramways.30 This authority applies equally, for example, to gondolas at a ski resort or at permanent amusement parks. Among the requirements is that the division must inspect all aerial tramways at least twice a year.

As with amusement rides, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has adopted specific regulations governing aerial passenger trams.31 These regulations are more strict than those for amusement rides. For example, tramway inspectors must be registered engineers that have passed both a written and field examination conducted by the Division. Tramways must have written evacuation plans and there must be an evacuation drill each operating season. Owner/operators of aerial trams must have training and education programs for individuals hired to operate or work on tramways. There are specific regulations for each type of tramway as well.

Health Services -- Swimming Pools

Many amusement parks, such as Waterworld USA, have swimming pools. The Department of Health Services has jurisdiction over the operation, maintenance and use of public swimming pools.32 Such authority includes the quality and purity of the water, lifesaving and other measures to ensure the safety of bathers, and measures to ensure personal cleanliness of bathers. Department of Health Services has adopted rules and regulations further clarifying the precise requirements regarding public swimming pools.33 These regulations relate principally to sanitation issues.

California Building Code

Under the State Building Standards Law,34 the California Building Standards Commission adopts the California Building Standards Codes. These codes define the materials, methods, and process specifications for constructing or altering all buildings and structures. The codes focus primarily on ensuring structural integrity and fire safety. The codes generally meet or exceed any national specifications, published standards, or model codes. Cities and counties can adopt more strict standards.

The codes have special rules or orders for certain types of buildings and structures. For example, the codes define "Amusement Building" as:

a building or portion thereof, temporary or permanent, used for entertainment or educational purposes and which contains a system which transports passengers or provides a walkway through a course so arranged that the required exits are not apparent due to theatrical distractions, are disguised or not readily available due to the method of transportation through the building or structure.35

The codes require that amusement buildings meet specific fire safety requirements. For example, amusement buildings must have a public address system that is audible throughout the building.

The California Building Standards Code does not have any other special rules or orders for amusement parks or rides.

Local Laws

Without State authority over permanent amusement rides or parks, the bulk of the responsibility for oversight falls on local government -- cities and counties. Typically, the oversight is through local building codes.

Building Standards

Most cities and counties have adopted the current provisions of California Building Standards Code for their jurisdiction. These codes require that before one can construct or alter a structure, such as a permanent amusement ride, one must get a building permit.36 To get a permit, the applicant must include plans, specifications, engineering calculations, diagrams, soil investigation reports, special inspection and structural observation programs, and any other data the local building official might require. The local building official reviews the information to ensure that the plans meet or exceed the local building code's requirements. Again, the focus is principally on ensuring structural integrity and fire safety. Once the local building official issues a building permit, the applicant can begin construction. However, the applicant rulcannot deviate from the approved plans and specifications without prior approval of the local building official.

All construction or work that requires a building permit is subject to inspection.37 The building inspector's purpose is to ensure that the building or structure is built according to approved plans.

Insurance Company Requirements & Industry Standards

Government is not the only one interested in amusement park safety. Two other key players are the insurance companies and the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Insurance Companies

Some large amusement parks are self-insured. However, many amusement parks and by law all carnivals carry liability insurance. Most significant insurance companies require their own annual inspection before insuring amusement rides. They use some criteria to do so. However, we have been unable to determine what these criteria are, or how they affect amusement ride operations.

American Society for Testing and Materials

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is a not-for-profit organization that develops consensus based national standards for materials, products, systems, and services. ASTM standards are developed voluntarily and used voluntarily. Nationally, ASTM standards are used by thousands of individuals, companies, and agencies. In particular, many government agencies reference them in codes, regulations, and laws.38

The ASTM has established nine standards specifically relating to amusement rides and devices.39

These standards are:

The ASTM standards vary in their specificity. Some are very specific. For example the standard for the design and manufacture of amusement rides and devices specifies:

5.1) The weight assigned to an adult passenger, for design purposes, shall be 170 lb. (77 kg.) or 12 lb./in. (5.4 kg./25.4 mm.) of hip width at the seat, whichever is greater.40

Yet the standards are silent on the maximum forces that a ride can subject its passengers. Also, while computer software is becoming more and more critical to the safe operation of amusement rides, the ASTM has not set standards for software as well.

These standards cover the full range of amusement rides and devices, both permanent and mobile. The standards establish minimum requirements and are not intended to be definitive. The ASTM standards come closest of any state or federal regulation to addressing all four aspects of ride safety that we discussed above. In California, compliance with ASTM amusement ride standards is up to the individual ride owner or operator. In other states, compliance is mandatory.

Other States

Forty-five states (including the District of Columbia) have some type of amusement ride oversight program, as do many local jurisdictions. State regulations focus mainly on the construction and maintenance aspects of safety, primarily through building codes and regular inspections. Many states also address operational aspects through ride operator guidelines. Few, if any, regulate ride design aspects.

The scope of the oversight in most states includes amusement rides at either permanent or mobile parks or both.41 It may also include waterparks, go-cart tracks, bungee jumping, inflatable rides, and ski-lifts and trams.42 Forty-one states oversee both permanent parks and mobile parks to some extent. (See Table 3.)



Table 3

States Which Oversee Both Permanent and Mobile Parks























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina





South Carolina







West Virginia




Complied by the California Research Bureau, California State Library.

Four states oversee mobile parks only, including California, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Six states have no state oversight programs. They are Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

History of States' Legislation

Connecticut passed its state amusement ride safety legislation in 1945, the oldest still in operation.43 Oregon followed in 1959 and six more states, including California, enacted legislation in the 1960s. Most of the remaining states added legislation in the 1980s. In the last fifteen years, twenty-three states have added statutes and regulations overseeing amusement ride safety. (See Appendix B for a complete list.)

Little information exists to indicate what prompted the amusement ride regulations in the 1960s and 1970s, although in many cases (including California) a catastrophic event appears to have prompted the legislation. Most amusement ride statutes and regulations, especially prior to the early 1980s, focused on setting standards for and regulating owners and manufacturers. Some studies suggest that the focus of this legislation reflects the fact that most ride accidents during that time were due to mechanical and/or operator deficiencies.44

More recent findings, including those by the CPSC,45 indicate that amusement ride injuries since 1986 are more likely to be caused by rider error than any other reason (75-80 percent). Accordingly, at least 10 states have enacted, and at least 15 more are considering, "rider responsibility" legislation.46 (For example, see Appendix A, page 34). Other recent amendments primarily regulate bungee jumping.

Oversight Programs

Most states regulate both permanent and mobile rides at the state level and require state inspections. In twenty states, the administrative agency is the Department or Division of Labor, followed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Safety each in five states, and the Department of Consumer Affairs (Protection) in four states. Other oversight agencies include the Department of Industrial Relations, state building code agencies, etc.

A few states, such as Arizona and Delaware, allow inspections by insurance companies in lieu of state inspections as part of the state oversight process. Florida inspects all amusement devices and attractions, but exempts the "Big 3," Disneyworld, Busch Gardens, and Universal Studios. They do so because these parks have their own in-house safety programs whose safety standards, according to the State Inspector, exceed state standards. Texas only requires proof of insurance that must be on file with the Department of Insurance. Three states, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming require local jurisdictions to regulate amusement rides.

Of the four states that regulate only mobile rides, each does so differently. California conducts state inspections, Mississippi gives local jurisdictions oversight authority for all amusement rides except the state fair, and Rhode Island allows insurance company inspections, but steps in for an accident situation. The District of Columbia conducts its own inspections.

Many states allow local jurisdictions to further regulate amusement ride safety if such regulation does not conflict with state law. Several localities do this.

Of the ten states that do not regulate permanent parks, five have few, if any permanent parks, and certainly no major theme parks.47 Of the remaining five states, California has many permanent parks, including several major theme parks and Missouri is home to Six Flags Over Mid-America. Several states (including California) have considered passing permanent park legislation in the past 20 years but decided not to.

Some states have extensive oversight programs while others have minimal programs. States with extensive programs, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maine regulate and routinely inspect all amusement parks and carnivals. In addition, they:

States with minimal programs typically have limited jurisdiction. Those with minimal programs include:






Inflatable Rides


Tramways & Aerial Rides


State Fair


State Fair

Inspections, Permits, and Licenses

Most states require an annual license or permit (usually for each ride) before operation. Receiving a license or permit is usually contingent upon passing a safety inspection and in some cases providing proof of liability insurance. For mobile amusements, permits must often be posted on the rides for which they were issued. Some states have application and inspection scheduling deadlines. All permanent parks and carnivals are, of course, subject to local building, electrical, and fire codes. Local officials usually conduct these inspections separately.

Inspection Schedules

Most states have separate inspection schedules for permanent parks and mobile carnivals. Mobile carnivals are most often inspected at each set-up or ride relocation. However some states, such as California, inspect once a year and then issue a yearly or seasonal permit. In these cases, mobile carnivals often must submit their travel schedules to inspectors in advance and display their ride permits and inspection certificates on the rides at each location.

Permanent parks are more typically inspected at regular intervals such as annually or before opening for the season. Hawaii inspects amusement rides every six months, while Pennsylvania does so monthly. Some states also have random inspections, and most have follow-up re-inspections for compliance or following an accident. Most rides must be re-inspected following a major modification. In states with private inspectors, state inspectors often step in if there is a problem or accident, or if they receive a complaint. Most states require a passing inspection before they will issue an operating license and/or permit.

Many parks also require employees to conduct daily ride inspections before opening. This usually includes visual inspections and running the rides.

Inspection Criteria

As previously noted, the ASTM has guidelines and standards for amusement ride design, construction, operation, and maintenance. Many states use these criteria for their inspection guidelines. These guidelines cover assembly and disassembly, and daily, as well as periodic, inspection criteria. Most states conduct extensive visual checks, and test safety devices, brakes, communication equipment, and guard barriers. They also perform system-specific checks of engines, air compressors, hydraulics, and electrical equipment, as well as nondestructive testing of all critical mechanical and structural components as recommended by the manufacturer.48


Most states require inspectors to be licensed professional engineers, with experience in amusement device inspection. Some states hire staff inspectors, others contract out. Some states use insurance company inspectors, but require the company to be licensed to do business within the state. Often inspectors must be certified by the state's regulating board or department. State inspectors often inspect elevators, tramways and ski-lifts as well.


Most states charge owners/operators for ride inspections. Either a direct per-ride inspection fee is charged or a fee is required to obtain a license or permit (which usually requires an inspection). Fees are typically lower for kiddie rides ($10-$30) than for other rides ($50+), but some states charge one fee for all rides. Government park owners are usually exempt from fees, and there are usually no fees for random inspections.


At least 35 states have provisions in their statutes or regulations that require owners to maintain liability insurance. Coverage ranges from $100,000 per ride to $3 million per occurrence, with most states having $1 million liability coverage per occurrence. Of the ten states without this requirement at the state level, three (Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming) have local oversight and may have locally imposed insurance requirements. The remaining seven do not address insurance in their amusement ride statutes or regulations, but may have requirements found elsewhere.49

Ride Operator Guidelines

Many states have ride operator guidelines in their regulations. Typical guidelines suggest that ride operators:

In addition, operators frequently are authorized to refuse admission to a ride if entry may jeopardize the safety or health of the person or other patrons. They may also deny admission for specific ride restrictions (for example height) usually according to manufacturers' guidelines.

Some states also have amusement ride operators' and attendants' manuals that provide guidelines for general safety (do's and don'ts), proper conduct for operators, handling emergencies, etc. Many parks have their own such manuals.


Considering the preceding discussion, we draw the following conclusions:

  1. The CPSC's fatality data are incomplete -- their report notes that the data "do not account for all amusement ride-related deaths."50

  2. The CPSC does not estimate injuries by state. Consequently we cannot distinguish between regulated and unregulated rides.

  3. There is no way to accurately adjust the data for the number of riders. Thus we cannot assess the number of injuries or deaths relative to the opportunity for injury or death.

  4. We cannot determine the cause of all of the accidents. Since we cannot assign responsibility for the accidents, we cannot accurately characterize the risks.

  1. The Legislature typically reacts to high profile accidents by investigating current laws and regulations and introducing proposed changes.

  2. California has considered regulating permanent amusement rides on a number of occasions and has chosen not to.