In July 2013, the much-anticipated Texas Giant rollercoaster at Six Flags Over Texas became a symbol of tragedy after a 52-year-old rider named Rosa Esparza fell 75 feet to her death from the ride.
The accident sparked a national discussion about the potential dangers of rollercoasters, especially for riders with larger bodies that may not be accommodated by the coaster. It also raised many questions about the inspection requirements Texas implements for amusement park rides, and whether a stricter system might be necessary.
For example, while several rides at Six Flags offer a “test seat” at the entrance so that visitors can determine whether they will fit safely within the seat, the Texas Giant did not have a test seat available on the day of Esparza’s death. The park did have a test seat for the ride, but did not make it available to visitors until after the accident had occurred.
A spokesperson for the park did assert, however, that all riders are checked to make sure their seat restraints fit correctly, according to an article in the Dallas News. And the park made other changes to the roller coaster, such as installing a mechanism that won’t let the train leave if the lap bar is not attached properly.
But have these changes actually improved safety? Not everyone thinks so. A court filing against Six Flags claimed that the trains on the Texas Giant were a “defective product that was unreasonably dangerous in design, manufacture, distribution and promotion.” Other commentators have noted that “one size fits all” is increasingly not an option for amusement park rides, as amusement parks continue to attract more customers with significant diversity in body size and shape.
The Texas Legislature may also discuss changes to amusement park safety laws and regulations. Currently, the Texas Department of Insurance is responsible for collecting proof of insurance and inspection from amusement parks, but it cannot enforce safety regulations. Meanwhile, a 400 percent increase in requests for amusement park permits in recent years has strained TDI’s resources, making it even tougher to ensure every park’s paperwork is in order.