TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Several ride safety experts say that while Florida ranks among the top states in the U.S. when it comes to amusement ride safety laws, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
According to Brian Avery, an operations consultant who has worked in the events, tourism and attractions industry for nearly 30 years, the state could do more to protect riders.
What do you need to know
- Florida officials on Tuesday announced the completion of their investigation into the death of 14-year-old Tyra Sampson
- A young man died in March when he slipped out of his seat and fell from falling from the Orlando FreeFall tower
- Security expert Brian Avery says changes to Florida law could make a similar incident much more difficult in the future
“We should be the gold star of safety here in the state of Florida when it comes to amusement rides,” Avery said.
But even though international amusement ride safety standards are cited in the Florida statute, Avery says in some places the state statutory language itself is broad enough to allow for loopholes that circumvent those standards.
Avery is a member of ASTM F-24, the committee that develops these international safety standards. Although the ASTM-F24 standards require weight limit signage to be posted near the ride at all times, the Florida statutory language does not.
That contradiction, Avery says, came into play when 14-year-old Tire Sampson died in March after slipping out of his seat on the Orlando FreeFall drop tower.
“There was a loophole, if you will, where if the ride manufacturer wasn’t recommending — not even requiring, just recommending — that certain marks for the types of riders be placed on the signage, that they didn’t have to be, according to the state. and the state would not enforce them,” Avery said. “Therefore, the public was not aware of this (weight) requirement and those who operated it were not reinforced with regard to it because they did not see it on a daily basis.”
According to the FreeFall maintenance manual, it had a weight limit of 286 pounds. According to officials, Sampson weighed 383 pounds when he died.
According to video footage provided by Spectrum News, it appears that even the owners of the ride were apparently unaware of the drop tower ride’s weight limit.
“No, there is no weight limit,” Ritchie Armstrong, CEO of The Slingshot Group, said at a press conference earlier this year, before the first ride. “There is no minimum age, there is no minimum weight and there is no maximum weight. If you fit safely in the seat and the straps are secured … none of these operating systems will work until the seats are secured, so if you fit safely in the seat, you’re good to go.”
The more robust labeling requirements are included in a package of proposed legislative changes first floated by state officials in July and drafted Thursday as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the culmination of the department’s investigation into the FreeFall ride and Sampson’s death.
“Our changes would mandate the publication of all patronage requirements, warnings and/or exemptions contained in the driver’s manual,” Fried said Thursday.
Here’s what state officials say they plan to include in the proposed “Sampson Tire Act”:
- Expanded Marking Requirements for Reader Qualification
- More security system checks during the permitting process before engineers sign the annual FDACS affidavits
- A more comprehensive definition of which driving modifications must be reported to the state by law
- Department authority to establish minimum training standards and training documentation requirements
- Departmental authority and increased reporting requirements for maintenance documentation and any changes made to safety systems and restrictions
- Departmental authority to mandate ride commissioning and certification as part of permit requirements
- Added requirement that ride operators provide the state with all manufacturer data for settings related to restraint and safety systems for patrons
- New “safety monitor” positions within FDACS who would be solely responsible for reviewing all types of rides – including unannounced visits – to ensure all training and operational requirements are met
The ride manuals were never provided to the guides working the Free Fall ride the night Sampson died, according to the state’s extensive investigative report released Thursday. That, according to Avery, presents another big problem with Florida’s current law.
“Unfortunately, I think the training in general in the state of Florida and the requirements that come with it are very lacking,” Avery said. “It doesn’t go far enough.” And we don’t have any markers for how long the training should be, and we don’t require the introduction of specific documents.”
“If you don’t have a driving manual, how are you going to train your people? How do you check the device properly? Are you following the equipment or ride specifications?” he added.
While conductors and operators are properly trained, Avery said there is currently insufficient oversight or enforcement to ensure that employees are actually following these guidelines consistently.
“Did they (employees) learn it? Did they keep it? Are they compliant?” Avery said. “And if they’re not, how do we correct that behavior and make sure they’re compliant and the guest situation… doesn’t result in injury or death as a result?”
That gap in training requirements is another issue the proposed “Sampson Tire Act” would address, according to state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, who has vowed to quickly introduce legislation.
“When the millions of people who visit Florida come to this state, we want them to know that there is oversight, that there is accountability, that there are inspections, that there are training requirements,” Thompson said Tuesday.
Fried said the proposed law gives the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the authority to set a “minimum standard” for training, as well as for documentation of exactly how that training takes place.
Officials said the owners of the FreeFall ride were unable to produce such documentation during the state’s investigation.
Watch: US states with and without comprehensive driving enforcement
(Information from ridesdatabase.org)
When asked Tuesday which experts were consulted in developing the proposed law, Fried said the state, in conjunction with Thompson’s office, worked with FDACS staff involved in ride inspections and safety manual protocols.
Avery and other driving safety experts Spectrum News spoke with said they want more universal adoption of the safety standards developed by ASTM-F24.
“My hope is that one day these standards will be adopted at the federal level, maybe or just recognized by the industry as a whole,” Avery said. “You’re creating standards to mitigate and eliminate these known and foreseeable hazards so we can provide a safer experience for the public.”
Avery said it shouldn’t be up to consumers like Sampson to know whether or not it’s safe for them to drive.
“We can’t blame our patron base for their lack of knowledge because they’re not experts,” he said. Amusement park operators are. So we have to make sure we let them know … if we can’t get them to read the sign — to enforce what the sign requirements or these materials are in the first place.”