REALITY CHECK: Lack of oversight for fair rides in Alabama
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) —
Thousands of families will enjoy the Greater Gulf State Fair while it's here in town. But incidents like the one at the Pensacola Interstate Fair last month where two people got hurt on a ride prompted us to examine the safety of fair rides. In this Reality Check, NBC 15's Andrea Ramey investigates the inspection process and finds a lack of oversight in Alabama.
Christopher Baker's nose and forehead were fractured while riding the Indy 500 at the Pensacola Interstate Fair. It's unclear what caused Baker and another woman to leave the fair bloodied and bruised.
"We couldn't find any loose part of the ride that might of caused it. Nothing," said Fair Manager Don Frenkel.
What is clear, injuries on fair rides are not uncommon. Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital found from 1990-2010, kids made more than 92,000 trips to the ER due injuries from amusement rides. A third of those injuries happened on portable rides, like the ones found at fairs.
"Most parents assume that it's getting checked and that the rides are safe and that someone is looking into it, and that's not always the case," said Child Injury Prevention Alliance Executive Director Tracy Mehan.
There are no national safety standards for fairs. Fair goers safety relies on a patchwork of standards and regulations that vary state to state. While the vast majority of states have some kind of an inspection program, here in Alabama there isn't one.
"This can lead to varying levels of training, how often the inspections are happening. It's just really different in each state and parents don't realize that," said Mehan.
"Safety is paramount to everything we do," said Scooter Korek with North American Midway Entertainment.
North American Midway Entertainment operates the fair in Mobile, and says while Alabama does not inspect its equipment, other states and cities along the fair route do.
"We've been in eight municipalities where state and provincial inspection authorities have been taking a look at all of our equipment," said Korek.
Those inspections, the company says, are in addition to a private company that's hired to inspect the rides prior to the fair opening. Fair employees also inspect the rides daily.
"Another level of inspection," said Korek.
And the company is quick to point out, what happened in Pensacola, is not associated with them.
"That is not our company," said Korek.
"We have ultimate faith in North American Midway Entertainment. There's a reason why we've been partnering with them for over 30 years. They provide the largest midway to us, but more important than that, they provide the safest midway," said The Grounds Executive Director Josh Woods.
Researchers say parents should understand the risks but with proper planning, the fair can be safe and fun.
"In most cases, it's ok to go on those rides and have fun with your kids," said Mehan.
Two important tips: trust your gut and know your kid. If the ride or ride operator makes you feel uncomfortable, move on. And if you don't think your child can follow the safety rules, like keeping their hands in the ride, move on. Better safe than sorry.