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I-Team: Federal Government Has No Amusement Park Oversight

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Three days after a woman fell to her death from riding the Texas Giant roller coaster at The Six Flags Over Texas, the CBS 11 I-Team has learned the federal government has no oversight of amusement parks and some critics say the state has very little.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees "traveling" amusement parks, including fairs or carnivals, but not fixed sites such as Six Flags.

A patchwork of state regulators across the country are responsible for inspecting amusement park rides – and with no federal oversight, there is no uniformity on the state level.  For example, in Florida, it's the Department of Fair Ride inspections.  In California, it's the Department of Industry Relations.  In Texas, it falls under the responsibilities of the Department of Insurance handles the duties.  But even then, that department isn't doing the actual inspections.

According to records obtained by CBS 11 News, the department has hired a private safety engineer annually to inspect the Texas Giant.  The latest inspection was February of this year.  The engineer then reports to the Department of Insurance.

State Representative Lon Burnam says amusement parks need more oversight – and he's not alone.  Since 1999, U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts has been unsuccessful in his repeated attempts to pass a bill that would return amusement park oversight to the consumer product safety commission.

Responding to the Six Flags incident, Senator Markey tells CBS 11, "Roller coasters...should not be exempt from federal safety oversight. A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour. This is a mistake."

Here in Texas, State Senator John Carona filed a bill during this year's regular session trying to get oversight of amusement parks moved from the Department of Insurance to the Department of Licensing and Regulation.

State government and congressional sources tell us these legislative efforts continue to fail because the amusement park industry employs a powerful lobby.

While the Department of Insurance oversees the ride inspections, it is not involved in accident investigations.  The park itself is solely responsible for accident investigations.  The Department of Insurance will determine when Texas Giant will reopen, which will not happen until a private safety engineer signs off on it.

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