Broken collar bone and ankles, amputated finger: How safe are NJ amusement rides?
This is the time of year when many families are heading out to amusement parks, fairs and carnivals all over New Jersey. But they might be wondering: How safe are those rides?
New Jersey officials insist rides are safe, for the most part, because regulators routinely conduct inspections.
But accidents do happen. (See list below of last year's serious injuries).
The last fatal injury on a ride in New Jersey occurred in 2011, when an 11-year-old girl fell from a Ferris wheel in Wildwood. Five people have been killed on rides in the Garden State since 1997.
“We have 11 people who do the inspections, we have three supervisors who do some inspections but also supervise the work of others, and we have three guys who are dedicated to electrical inspections,” said Mike Baier, acting chief of the Bureau of Code Services at the state Department of Community Affairs.
Last year in New Jersey, a total of 12,266 inspections were done and 1,426 violations were issued.
In 2015, a total of 142 injury incidents were reported at New Jersey amusement parks and carnivals. There were 136 minor injuries, including bumps, bruises and sprains, and six injuries deemed to be serious.
Baier said before the rides open each year, they go out and do an inspection, and then as the season progresses, “we do intermittent inspections.”
Michael Triplett, the supervisor of enforcement of the Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Unit, also overseen by the DCA, said “if it’s a carnival ride, what we try to do is we try to get there for every set-up. If it’s a fixed amusement park we try to do sporadic inspections throughout the season, maybe three or four times a season for each ride.”
Baier said the state tracks both serious and non-serious ride-related injuries.
“A serious injury would be something like a broken bone or somebody loses consciousness or a fatality. We sort of track those differently than if somebody got a couple of stitches or somebody bumped their head or something like that,” he said.
Most serious injuries in 2015
July 29 — Splash Zone in Wildwood: The Flowrider. The ride simulates a surfing experience. A rider fell while trying to stand up on the board and broke his collar bone.
Aug. 8 — Reithoffer Shows in Augusta: The Fun House. A rider had to have a partial amputation of a middle and right index finger when he possibly caught his hand between the floor and a spinning disc.
Aug. 8 —Mountain Creek in Vernon: The Thunder Falls. A rider suffered a possible broken wrist on the water slide. The patron said he did not know how it occurred.
Aug. 12 — Lynam’s Amusements in Williamstown: The Sizzler. The rider felt dizzy getting off ride and fell backwards into the ride, breaking an ankle.
Aug. 12 — Tomahawk Lake in Sparta: The Crazy Horse. A rider put her hands out in an attempt to stop while going down a water slide and broke both wrists.
Oct. 11 — Cliff Hanger Productions in Rutherford: The Mechanical Bull. A rider was thrown from the bull and broke a finger during the fall.
What to look for
Baier said if New Jerseyans head out to have fun at an amusement park or carnival this spring or summer, “they should certainly look for a permit on the ride to make sure that we’ve inspected the ride.
"They should also follow any of the instructions that the operators are giving them to make sure they’re following the safety procedures.”
“For any ride to operate in New Jersey it has to meet a national safety standard. The rides, although they’re a little more thrilling, are just as safe as they’ve always been.”
Some rides too dangerous
Triplett pointed out not all rides that are proposed by amusement parks are allowed to operate.
He said a few years ago one park wanted to feature a water ride where someone would be sealed inside a plastic ball, but the ride didn’t get approval.
“The ride was supposed to be five minutes long, and that’s how much air you had, and it was only six minutes before you reached a toxic level of carbon dioxide, so that ride wasn’t permitted,” said Triplett.
Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com