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Six Flags Rollercoaster Tragedy Highlights Sometimes Confusing Nature of CPSC’s Jurisdiction

Written by: Matt Howsare and Shoshana Speiser

When you board a ride at an amusement park, the question of who regulates the ride vs. the toy you just won is probably the last thing on your mind.

After last month’s tragic death on the Texas Giant rollercoaster at Six Flags, however, nationwide attention and scrutiny has focused on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) lack of jurisdiction over “fixed-site” amusement park rides. This jurisdictional carve out occurred in 1981 when the U.S. Congress stripped the CPSC of its jurisdiction over these rides through amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Act. As a result, rides that are “permanently fixed to a site” are only subject to voluntary standards written by the ASTM F-24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices and a patchwork of state-specific regulations.

Describing the CPSC as lacking jurisdiction over “fixed-site amusement parks” altogether, however, would be inaccurate. The CPSC’s jurisdictional limitation for amusement parks only extends to the actual rides. Almost all other products, including many of the items sold inside of stores and game prizes, fall under CPSC’s jurisdiction. This includes the abundant supply of children’s products and toys found in amusement parks, which must comply with lead content/paint and phthalate limits, the ASTM F963 toy standard, requirements for tracking labels, the third party testing and certification regulations, and other requirements associated with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

A longtime critic of the 1981 carve out for permanently fixed rides, Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), recently highlighted this jurisdictional distinction, stating that “a baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.” Senator Markey could have just as easily referred to the toys and other children’s products that many amusement park visitors often take home with them.

CPSC’s sometimes complicated jurisdiction is not limited to just amusement parks, but amusement parks provide an informative window into the complexities of CPSC jurisdictional analysis. For more information on CPSC’s jurisdictional limitations, click here.

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