A state order requiring Disneyland to overhaul a ride that left a 4-year-old Canyon Country boy with severe brain damage is sparking debate over whether theme-park regulations now being drafted should require safety improvements in similarly designed rides.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health on Friday called on Disneyland to add entryway closures and sensor-equipped guards around the base of cars on the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin.
The order came three months after preschooler Brandon Zucker fell from the ride and was dragged underneath a spinning simulated taxicab for about 10 feet before the ride stopped.
Several other Disneyland rides also contain entryways without doors, but the state has not required that those attractions be modified.
The state is completing new safety regulations for theme parks. The current draft of the rules was written before regulators completed their probe of the Roger Rabbit accident and doesn’t require amusement parks to modify similar rides, said Len Welsh, the California safety agency’s special counsel.
But Welsh and several vocal activists for greater theme-park safety expect a push for rules that require rides with no doors to be examined and possibly modified.
“I’ll be using this report,” said Kathy Fackler, a La Jolla mother whose son’s foot was crushed on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1998. “I’m nervous about any ride that allows a preschooler to spin around with only a single lap bar and with open sides.”
Fackler, who was a leading advocate of the 1999 law creating the first state inspection program for fixed theme parks, said the state’s report on the Roger Rabbit ride will “help set a precedent.”
Welsh said it would be “a very big leap” to suggest a ride is unsafe just because it’s similar to the Roger Rabbit ride.
“It’s too hard to generalize,” Welsh said.
But he predicted that concern over certain design features would be “taken very seriously” when public comment is solicited on proposed safety regulations for amusement parks.
Ken Martin, an amusement-ride safety consultant working for the Zucker family attorney, said that in the wake of the report, similar rides at Disneyland should be examined.
“It’s common sense to review everything that’s in place and remove similar hazards from other rides,” said Martin.
Disneyland officials disagreed with the division’s finding that the ride’s design was to blame for the accident but said they would overhaul the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin.
However, Disneyland said, it has no plans to change other rides at the park that also have open entryways and exposed bases.
Disneyland officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
State investigators said Brandon was seated next to the ride car’s open entryway and that operators improperly lowered a lap bar to keep him in place. Disneyland disputed that, saying Brandon’s mother was seated next to the opening and the lap bar was fully lowered.
The investigation was among the first under the new amusement-park law, which was passed in the wake of the 1998 Christmas Eve accident at Disneyland that killed a visitor and injured his wife and a worker.
Brandon is in a long-term-care facility in Orange, and his parents recently moved from Canyon Country to be near him.