Recently there were some news items about theme park accidents. In specific, there was a death at Six Flags Texas. The story broke very shortly after my own trip to Kings Dominion this year, and spurred some thoughts. I’ve just now gotten my thoughts in enough order to put them out there.
Though part of what I’m writing will end up making me sound like a big ol’ jerk-face, please understand that I’m always sorry to hear about someone who loses their life unexpectedly. My heart breaks for the family they leave behind. Worse than that, to hear that it was not just an unexpected, but unquestionably horrifying, way to die fills me with grief.
But the story has of course stirred up the usual interest in who’s responsible for the safety of park-goers. Though I didn’t know it before the story, it dredged up another push for our ever-increasing federal bureaucracy to exert more power over strapping our thrill-seeking buttocks into those seats. A federal government that has more than enough to do already, and people are reflexively calling for it to get more involved in yet another aspect of our lives.
The Truth of the Matter
The amusement park industry is a tightly-regulated industry already. As gauche as it may be to point this out, they’re in the business of making money. If they do not keep people safe, they lose a lot of money, and not just to the inevitable settlements and/or lawsuits.
Deaths make people avoid the parks. Rides get shut down during investigations. The big attractions that draw people fail to get those admissions dollars. That coaster they spent up to $25 million or more to construct, not to mention market and maintain annually, becomes a giant money pit.
Of course, everyone dances around the simple fact that sometimes it’s just unavoidable. Machines fail, fail-safes don’t function properly and sometimes you just draw the short straw.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, if you pardon the expression in this context.
I’ve gotten into many debates about the role of government regulating us into an idyllic nation of svelte people. There are any of a number of reasons I bristle at Michael Bloomberg, but the simple fact is that if I want a 50-ounce Pepsi®, then by goodness I have every gosh-darn right to it.
Do we need better education about eating the right way? Sure we do.
Whose responsibility is it? Ultimately our own.
I used to be much heavier than I am. I worked hard to lose that extra weight; sometimes it creeps back on and I have to work it off again. This is true of anyone.
But this is actually a side issue. The real issue is that the parks need the freedom to be the Bad Guy.
No One Wants to be the Bad Guy
While we were at Kings Dominon, I saw a guy have a helluva time getting into the Shockwave, a stand-up roller coaster. The problem was that he couldn’t put his arms behind himself to get the restraints closed. It was horribly awkward.
Instead of telling the guy to get off the coaster, the park attendants got him wedged into the restraints. It would have been a better solution to say to him, “Sorry, for your own safety, you can’t ride this attraction.” Those restraints were designed to work within certain limits that he exceeded.
They need to let the attendants have the authority to enforce the rules. While I don’t think that people should be teased, mocked or ridiculed for being overweight (they’re still human beings), I do think that when it comes to individual safety we need to give the authority to enforce the rules to the attendants. They need to know complaints won’t get them fired.
Otherwise more restraints will fail as they are put under greater stress than ones for which they were designed.
Free to Be You and Me
In short, I’m not going to stop any person from eating whatever they want. It’s a free country.
If you want to eat poorly and elect not to exercise, that’s on you. If you force the rest of us to adapt so that you don’t feel inconvenienced by the consequences of your own actions, then we have a problem, especially in an area dealing with immediate safety.
I spend a lot of time teaching my kids about consequences of their actions, please show me a sign that your parents did the same.
Just be considerate of others, for pete’s sake.