Our opinion: Safety first

Suppose, for instance, that Pennsylvania changed its motor vehicle code to say that you could either take your vehicle to an authorized inspection station and pay a fee, or you could do the inspection yourself.

How many more cars and trucks would you find on the road with potentially dangerous tie rods, the failure of which can cause a vehicle to suddenly veer out of control.

Now, consider that Tilt-a-Whirl you just watched your 8-year-old get strapped into before it is about to do what the name implies. Have you thought about when, how or if the contraption was inspected for safety?

Yes, there are standards for amusement ride inspections, but, like that hypothesis we presented above, most rides are inspected by the ride operators or hired by the operators.

Although there are hundreds of carnivals, fairs and other stationary amusement parks in Pennsylvania, the state Department of Agriculture, which is charged with making sure amusement rides are safe, only employs four inspectors. The inspectors only see about 200 of the amusements a year, about a quarter of the total.

Up to now, the record-keeping of ride inspections has been slapdash. In some cases, state inspectors didn’t find out that vendors had failed to hire inspectors until after the vendors had moved on. And, even then, there are no penalties in the law for those who hadn’t hired inspectors.

Now, both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are planning hearings to look into what appears to be a woefully inadequate program to make sure amusement rides are safe.

That’s a good first step, and one we hope gets past the hearing stage and results in a better, more reliable program.