CRB California Research Bureau, California State Library

CRB 97-012 August 1997


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 from 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, portable carnivals received no special treatment. This began to change because of an accident at the Kern County Fair.


On September 26, 1967, a teenage girl died when she was thrown from a carnival ride at the Kern County Fair.52 Two girls were riding in a car on "The Scrambler" -- a ride which at times creates a large amount of centrifugal force -- when the door suddenly opened. One girl was thrown from the ride, while the other managed to wedge herself into her seat until the ride was stopped. The coroner ruled the death accidental.53 While an examination of the ride showed the door latch to one car was defective, there was no evidence presented that the deceased had ridden in that car. However, the Coroner did find negligence on the part of the ride operator.


Responding to the death of the girl in Kern County, Assemblymember George Zenovich (D-Fresno) introduced Assembly Bill 888 on March 6, 1968.54 The bill, titled the Amusement Rides Safety Law, proposed to establish the Amusement Rides Safety Board. This board would establish rules and regulations for operation of both permanent and mobile amusement rides. The Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Industrial Safety (now known as Cal-OSHA) would enforce the rules and regulations.

The bill would establish a number of requirements. Before a ride operator could erect or alter an amusement ride, the operator would have to file with the Division a notice of intention and any plans or diagrams requested by the Division. All amusement rides would be inspected before they were originally put into operation, and at least once every year thereafter.55 In addition, amusement rides could be inspected each time they are disassembled and reassembled. Ride operators would have to carry at least $50,000 in liability insurance. Receipts from inspections and the sale of permits would support the program.


On April 23, Assemblymember Zenovich amended the bill. First, he eliminated the Amusement Rides Safety Board. Instead, Cal-OSHA would establish the rules and regulations. Second, he exempted "the operation of articles of husbandry incidental to agricultural operation" -- such as pony rides -- from the act.

The bill was further amended on April 30 and again on May 13. These amendments were largely technical refinements. For example, the amendments clarified that:

Assembly Vote

The bill cleared the Assembly Committees easily, with no formal opposition. On June 10 the full Assembly voted 59 - 0 to send the bill to the Senate.

The Senate

The bill moved quickly though the Senate Committees, again with no formal opposition. Senator George Danielson (D-Los Angeles County) carried the bill for Assemblymember Zenovich on the Senate floor. On July 25, Senator Danielson amended the bill on the Senate floor. His amendments exempted "amusement devices of permanent nature which are subject to building regulations issued by cities or counties and existing applicable safety orders." Senator Danielson reportedly said permanent amusement parks, such as Disneyland, requested the amendments because they were already covered by building code provisions.56 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."57

The next day the bill passed the Senate 38 - 0. Four days later, the Assembly concurred with the Senate amendments 61 - 0. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law on August 8, 1968, as Chapter 1113, Statutes of 1968.

Summary of Chaptered Bill

The bill established the Amusement Rides Safety Law. The law was to be administered by the Division of Industrial Safety (now known as Cal-OSHA) or a public entity (not further defined).58 The law defined amusement rides as any mechanical device which travels over a fixed route for the purpose of giving its passengers amusement, pleasure, thrills, or excitement.

The following were exempt from the law:

The Division of Industrial Safety was to promulgate and formulate rules and regulations for adoption by the Industrial Safety Board. The rules and regulations must cover installation, repair, maintenance, use, operation, and inspection of all amusement rides as necessary. The rules and regulations were to be in addition to existing safety orders and were to be concerned with engineering force stresses, safety devices, and preventive maintenance.

Rides must be inspected before being 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 inspectors must be licensed professional engineers. The division may hire inspectors. The division may order a temporary cessation after an inspection shows the ride to be hazardous or unsafe.

The owner or operator must have $50,000 liability insurance policy or bond, or $50,000 in cash or other security.


On October 2, 1972, President Nixon signed the Consumer Product Safety Act into law. 59 The purposes of this act were:

  1. to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products;

  2. to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products;

  3. to develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting State and local regulations; and

  4. to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, illnesses, and injuries.60

To accomplish these purposes, the Act established the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC held, and the courts affirmed, that amusement park rides were consumer products.61 Therefore, under other provisions of the Act, the CPSC could and did regularly inspect both permanent and mobile amusement park rides.


1978 was a bad year for serious accidents at California amusement parks:


On March 27, 1979, Senators Bill Greene and Alan Sieroty introduced SB 914. This bill, as heard in committee, proposed to:

  1. Cal-OSHA determines the operator maintains satisfactory safety, maintenance, and training programs, or

  2. If the ride is subjected to regulations issued by a public entity that are at least as restrictive as state safety requirements,

The operators of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk formally supported the bill. Disneyland formally opposed the bill.

On May 2, the Senate Committee on Industrial Relations heard SB 914. The list of witnesses included representatives from Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and Marriott's Great America. The committee took no formal action and the bill died in that committee.


On March 29, 1980, a 13-year-old boy fell to his death and eight others were injured when two trains collided on the "Willard's Whizzer" roller coaster at Great America. Park officials traced the accident to a mysterious electric signal that confused the roller coaster's computer.68


Assemblymember Floyd's AB 1035

Responding to the "Willard's Whizzer" and other accidents, Cal-OSHA asked Assemblymember Richard Floyd (D-Los Angeles Co.) to carry a bill that would expand Cal-OSHA's authorities to include permanent amusement rides. On March 16, 1981, Assemblymember Floyd introduced AB 1035.

The bill proposed to make the following changes to the Amusement Rides Safety Law:

The bill had no formal opposition. On April 28, the bill passed the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment by a 7 - 1 vote. The Assembly Ways and Means Committee then heard it on July 2. No vote was taken that day. Instead, the bill was to be heard again at a later date. The second hearing was never held and the bill died in committee.

Federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act

On August 13, 1981, the federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act69 was enacted. Included in this act were changes to the Consumer Product Safety Act. In particular, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act exempted permanent amusement rides from CPSC's jurisdiction. The CPSC continued to have authority over mobile amusement rides.

The purported intent of this change was to encourage States to assume greater responsibility for amusement ride safety.70 However, at a June 21, 1997 hearing in Concord California, retired CPSC investigator Albert Limberg presented a different story. According to Limberg, the amusement park industry lobbied for the change. He said the change was a result of the "Willard's Whizzer" accident. Marriott, the then operators of Great America, had a history of similar problems with the ride. However, they had failed to notify the CPSC of the problems as required by law. While investigating the fatal accident, the CPSC discovered the non-disclosure and fined the park $70,000. Limberg observed that within several months of the fine, Congress changed the law to exempt permanent parks, like Great America, from CPSC oversight.71


Assembly Subcommittee on Amusement Ride Safety

Assemblymember Richard Floyd chaired the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment's Subcommittee on Amusement Ride Safety. Other members of the Subcommittee were Assemblymembers Sally Tanner and Marian Bergeson. The purpose of the Subcommittee was to determine whether the Legislature should extend the provisions of California's Amusement Rides Safety Law to permanent amusement rides.

The Subcommittee held one hearing in Sacramento. Additionally, members of the Subcommittee and staff inspected three permanent amusement parks: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Magic Mountain, and Great America.72 The inspections reportedly included a review of the facilities and extensive discussions with safety directors and maintenance and medical personnel:

The subcommittee has found that all of the permanent amusement parks in this state operate very high quality safety programs. Moreover, a once-a-year inspection by [Cal-OSHA], currently required of portable rides, would not add a significant increment of safety to the operation of these parks. Therefore, the subcommittee concludes that the inclusion of permanent amusement rides within the Amusement Rides Safety Law is not necessary at this time.73

Senator Johnson's SB 1177

On March 4, 1983, Senator Ray Johnson introduced SB 1177. This bill essentially contained all of the non-permanent ride provisions of Assemblymember Floyd's AB 1035.

The bill proposed to make the following changes to the Amusement Rides Safety Law:

Senator Johnson carried the bill on behalf of the Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification. It was formally supported by:

On May 5 the bill passed the Assembly Industrial Relations Committee, 7 - 0. On May 26, SB 1177 passed the Senate on consent, 40 - 0. On June 29 it passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee 12 - 0. Finally, on August 25 SB 1177 passed the Assembly on consent, 80 - 0.


On May 22, 1984, three teenage boys were seriously injured on "The Edge", a thrill ride at the Great America Park in Gurnee, Ill.74 In response, Representative Paul Simon (D-Illinois) introduced HR 5790 on June 6, 1984. This bill, as reported out of sub-committee on September 25, proposed to expand the powers of the CPSC to inspect permanent amusement park rides:

  1. In states that did not conduct inspections, or

  2. Which have been involved in a fatality or an accident that required hospitalization.75

The House of Representatives debated the bill on October 2. Those in favor of the bill argued that it ensured that rides would be inspected in all states, even those that did not require inspection themselves. Those against argued that for those states that already regulated rides, the bill only exempted the inspection requirement. All other requirements, such as reporting or inspection after an accident would still be in place. After the debate, the bill passed the House, 300 - 119. The next day, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The bill died in committee.


In 1985, the US Congress again debated regulating permanent amusement parks. Three bills were introduced that were similar to Representative Simon's prior year's HR 5790:

The CPSC, the International Association of Amusement Park Owners (IAAPO), Disneyland, and Knott's Berry Farm opposed one or more of these bills. Instead, the IAAPO supported S 1032, introduced by Senator Danforth (R-Missouri). This bill proposed to establish an 18 month study of the status of amusement ride regulation at the local, state and federal level. The purpose of the study would be to determine the need for additional federal regulation. Despite extensive debate and legislative maneuvering, none of these bills made it into law.76


In the mid-1980s, a kiddie-train came off its tracks at Micke Grove Park in San Joaquin County. No one was seriously injured. However, the accident prompted San Joaquin County to look for routine inspection by the state.77 On March 4, 1987, Senator John Garamendi (D-San Joaquin Co.) introduced SB 1040. Sponsored by the County of San Joaquin, this bill proposed to completely rewrite the Amusement Rides Safety Law.

As amended on April 20, the bill would:

The County of San Joaquin and Micke Grove Amusements formally supported the bill. There was no formal opposition.

On May 20, the bill passed the Senate Industrial Relations Committee, 5 - 0. The next day, Senator Garamendi amended the bill to make the division chief responsible for setting standards and granting exemptions. On June 9, SB 1040 was amended to, among other things:

On June 19, the bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, 5 - 0. The bill was amended again on June 22, to reinstate the prior law's inspection requirements for portable amusement rides. Two days later, the Senate refused passage of the bill, 18 - 10. However, the Senate granted the bill reconsideration. The next day, June 25, the bill was amended to exempt:

  1. Amusement rides that are systematically inspected by a county building and safety department, or

  2. Amusement parks with:

On June 26, the bill passed the Senate 34 - 0. On June 29 SB 1040 was assigned to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. The bill died in that committee without a hearing.


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. An industry safety consultant found that the deceased had not properly attached himself to the bungee cords.78 Having determined that the laws regulating portable amusement rides also applied to bungee jumping, Cal-OSHA issued regulations regarding bungee jumping, on November 25, 1991.79


On February 2, 1992, Assemblymember Paul Horcher (R-Whittier) introduced AB 2778. This bill proposed to require bungee jumping operators have at least $100,000 in liability insurance. The bill had no formal support or opposition.

On May 7 the bill passed the Assembly Insurance Committee, 11 - 4. Four days latter the bill was amended to increase the liability requirement to $1 million. On May 21, AB 2778 passed the Assembly, 48 - 22. On June 30, the bill passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee, 6 - 0. The next day, the bill was amended to delete previous language and instead specifically include bungee jumping services in the definition of an amusement ride. The bill passed the Senate, 30 - 0, on July 23. The following day the Assembly concurred with the Senate amendments, 49 - 17. Governor Wilson signed the bill August 17.


By 1996, 10 states had adopted so-called rider responsibility laws. Such laws set down rules of conduct of patrons of the state's amusement parks and theme parks. On February 21, 1996, Assemblymember Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) introduced AB 2482. This bill, sponsored by Knott's Berry Farm, proposed to create the California Rider Safety Act.

Among other things, the bill would require riders to:

  1. Understand and obey the posted safety rules,

  2. Behave safely,

  3. Not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and

  4. Not go on any amusement ride unless the rider, or their parents, knows the range and limits of their ability, and knows that the requirements of the amusement ride will not exceed those limits.

By July 9, a long list of amusement parks and entertainment industry interests formally supported the bill. The Consumer Attorneys of California opposed it.

The bill saw much legislative action. The bill was amended three times before passing the Assembly, 56 - 10. Once in the Senate, the bill saw additional technical changes on July 8. Then, on July 11, the bill was amended to delete all provisions except those allowing amusement parks to detain and eject persons suspected of violating lawful park rules. Thus amended, the bill passed the Senate Judiciary and Appropriations committees as well as the full Senate without dissent. The Assembly concurred to the Senate amendments and Governor Wilson signed the bill into law.80


On February 28, 1997 Assemblymember Pringle introduced AB 1289. This bill would essentially enact all the Rider Safety Notification provisions of his prior year's AB 2482. Knott's Berry Farm is the sponsor of the bill. The bill is formally opposed by Consumer Attorneys of California and the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. AB 1289 is currently in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.