Dannemeyer, Dornan Oppose Regulation : Safety of Park Rides Stirs Fight in Congress

Times County Bureau Chief

Dolly Regina Young spilled out of a bobsled on the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland last year and was killed when the next bobsled ran over her.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) says the death of the 48-year-old Fremont woman is one of several amusement park fatalities throughout the United States in recent years that have led him to seek federal regulation of ride safety.

Indeed, Waxman introduced legislation last March that would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to inspect amusement park rides after fatalities such as Young’s or injuries requiring hospitalization. The commission would have authority to shut down a ride that it deemed to be unsafe and to order repairs.


A similar measure was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last year, but the U.S. Senate never got around to considering the bill before adjournment.

This time, however, Waxman has attempted to increase the odds for his measure by attaching it to the bill that routinely authorizes the federal safety panel to continue operating for another year. This way, the Senate would have to take up the issue in a joint Senate-House conference committee.

“I think it has a very good chance this time,” Waxman said Tuesday.

Opposition by Congressmen

But two Orange County congressman have gone to bat for both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, two of the county’s most visible and politically influential businesses, which are strongly opposing Waxman’s legislation.

Ironically, Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Buena Park) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), the two congressmen involved, don’t agree on strategy.

Dannemeyer, whose district included Disneyland until the 1983 reapportionment, opposes federal inspections but says he is willing to go along with an 18-month study proposed by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) to determine if there is a need for federal intervention. In the alternative, Dannemeyer says, he would go along with federal jurisdiction if amusement parks are given a chance to obtain exemptions through city, county or state regulation of ride safety. Other than fire laws, no such regulation exists in California.

Dornan, whose district includes both Disneyland and Knott’s, says he will fight all federal regulation of ride safety, period.


A controversial conservative firebrand, Dornan says Waxman has put “Mickey and Snoopy under fire” and warns that “the person sitting next to you on Space Mountain or on Skyjump this summer just might be a government regulator.”

Dannemeyer sees Waxman’s legislation as another attempt by a Democrat to invoke the powers of the federal government where none are needed.

“You’re never going to be able to stop some kid from trying to jump from one gondola to another while the gondolas are passing each other, and accidents will happen,” Dannemeyer says. “I just don’t understand Mr. Waxman’s biases on this subject.”

Neal McClure, Disneyland’s resident legal counsel, said he fears that the Consumer Product Safety Commission could come in “on an August afternoon and shut down a ride arbitrarily, to the detriment of 18,000 or so park visitors.”

“Our safety record is exemplary,” McClure said. “We don’t think there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Most accidents, he argued, involve negligence on the part of the rider, and do not involve equipment failure. Although accident victims or their families often sue Disneyland, which is what the family of Dolly Regina Young did, Disneyland usually wins in the few cases that actually reach a courtroom.


Computer Malfunction

Several people were injured recently on a train ride at Disneyland when a computer malfunctioned. McClure said of the accident:

“That was a problem with our computer program. . . . There was a bug in it that nobody detected. The program failed to anticipate certain circumstances.”

McClure said he doubts the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which also opposes Waxman’s legislation, would have the expertise to analyze the train ride’s computer program and discern any flaws.

“Sellers of ride equipment come to us for help in programming their rides, so who is the Consumer Product Safety Commission going to hire to analyze us? Who knows our computer program better than we do ourselves? They’d have to hire us to investigate ourselves,” McClure said.

But McClure acknowledged that negative publicity about ride accidents is another reason Disneyland opposes federal intervention.

Exaggeration Feared

McClure claims that the news media exaggerate accidents at amusement parks and that federal inspections would unnecessarily contribute to this.


“Quite frankly,” McClure said, “we can’t afford to have that sort of thing going on.”

McClure said he favors alternative legislation that would allow the federal Bureau of Standards to inspect rides after serious accidents and make engineering and safety findings, but without any authority to discipline park owners.

Meanwhile, Knott’s public relations manager, Jim Hardiman, said his firm opposes the legislation because “we think we can do a better job ourselves. . . . Whenever the government gets involved in something, it’s a disaster. We have the best safety record around.”

However, Hardiman acknowledged that some parks have deficiencies that need correcting. He said they should be urged to police themselves.

Confidentiality Cited

Knott’s and Disneyland declined to disclose their annual accident figures, although officials at both parks said they routinely report such information to the International Assn. of Amusement Park Owners, a trade group that claims 1,800 members. IAAPO officials said accident data for individual member parks is considered confidential.

However, newspaper clippings and public records indicate that there have been at least eight fatalities at Disneyland since the park opened in 1955, some of them involving rider negligence, and not all involving park rides.

IAAPO has distributed a report to congressmen claiming that the national hospitalization rate for ride injuries is about 65 persons per year, “or one in every 2.5 million park visits.” The association says there were about 6,700 injuries all told in 1983, a drop of 30% from 1982.


Waxman said in an interview Tuesday that he has not heard from either Dannemeyer or Dornan about his bill, but is not surprised by their opposition.

“They’re from Orange County, aren’t they? What do you expect?”

Action Scheduled

Waxman said most of the lobbying against his measure has come from the IAAPO. The bill is scheduled for consideration by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health next week.

Waxman acknowledged that the Consumer Product Safety Commission wants no added enforcement responsibilities.

In fact, Congress took away the panel’s authority over amusement park rides in 1981 during a spate of bills designed to deregulate various industries.

The safety agency was left with authority to regulate ride safety for carnivals that cross state lines, but commission officials acknowledge that they have done little even in that area because of cuts in the commission’s manpower and budget--cuts demanded by the Reagan Administration.

Waxman’s Concerns

“I’m concerned that the panel has authority to do something about a ride that crosses state lines (as part of a traveling carnival or circus), but not about the same ride if it’s placed at a fixed-site amusement park,” Waxman said.


“I’m also concerned that if a defect is found in a ride in New Jersey, for example, that somebody makes sure that the identical ride in California is inspected and repaired, if necessary, based on the information collected in New Jersey.

“It’s true that the commission, under a conservative administration, doesn’t care for this responsibility,” Waxman said. “But I don’t see that we should therefore back away.”