Who Inspects Theme Park Rides?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dozens of riders got stuck on the Manta roller coaster at SeaWorld last week, and then the Rip Saw Falls ride at Universal Islands of Adventure caught fire. After both those incidents, WFTV wanted to know, who is making sure these rides stay safe?

SeaWorld's Manta stopped when an emergency sensor went off, stranding riders nearly 140 feet off the ground for 20 minutes.

Riders may be surprised how little oversight, the parks have. Under state law, all big theme park rides are not required to undergo state inspection. It's left up to the parks to inspect their own rides.

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The rides are big, many of them fast and they attract millions of visitors a year to the Central Florida theme parks.

Many people assume the rides fall under state inspection, but they don't.

"We don't have any requirements in our statutes for their inspections," said Allan Harrison of the Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection.

Under state law, the big parks with more than 1,000 employees are exempt from inspection. The parks hire their own inspectors and the only requirement is once a quarter they have to report accidents.

But for smaller parks each ride has to be inspected twice a year and be open to surprise inspections the rest of the year.

"They have a free day, they'll come by, we get anywhere from one to three surprise inspections a year," Mark Brisson of Fun Spot said.

Fun Spot has 200 employees. Its marketing director believes the state inspections have made Fun Spot better, but he questions the double standard especially since they have to pay state fees.

A theme park expert told WFTV powerful lobbying by the big parks when they first moved into Florida helped set up the self-regulation, but points out major problems are rare even if some visitors question it.

"I'd want the bigger parks to have regulation too, for overall safety," Brisson said.

Even when reporting each quarter, they only have to report incidents where someone got hurt. So the incident at SeaWorld did not have to be reported.