The Threats of State Fairs

The NC State fair attracts loads of people every year with its welcoming rides, fried foods and classic fair games. Pictured here we see a very popular ride called the Fireball, the attraction that tragically left one dead and seven injured in Ohio, on July 26, 2017. (Photo Courtesy of Olivia Fontaine)

Raleigh residents are eager for the annual kickoff to fall, considering the gates to the NC state fair opened on Friday, October 12. Children, teenagers and adults of all ages gathered at the Raleigh fairgrounds, yearning for amusement rides, greasy foods and fun, interactive games. The fair has been an annual tradition for families since 1853, but how safe are the attendees kept while enjoying their time at the fair? How many safety precautions are implemented to keep fair participants safe and should we really be trusting these rickety, old rides?

State fair rides, which are continuously disassembled and reassembled, are notorious for being unreliable and risky attractions. “Each year 13,000 people were injured and visited an emergency room,” said a carnival operator, questioned by ABC News. Just last year, a toddler was not appropriately fastened into the ride, and fell from North Carolina’s state ferris wheel. The accident was marked as a user error; however, safety precautions should have been taken to eliminate the child’s ability to stand or fall from the ride.

When fair rides turn deadly, who is to blame- the rider, the operator, or the ride itself? The answer to this question will vary depending on the situation, but most times the incidents are ruled accidents due to the ride breaking down unexpectedly. In a recent incident, an Ohio state fair attraction broke in the middle of a ride and killed one passenger. Seven others were left with serious injuries, but luckily escaped with their lives.  

Although the laws differ depending on the state, majority of US states require a yearly inspection on all fair rides to be done before opening fair gates. In response to the ride malfunction in 2017, Ohio has passed a new law calling for more inspectors to review each ride, and for each inspection to be done thoroughly and strictly. Inspectors should be on the lookout for any early signs of stressed metal or corrosion on the rides. Any inspectors not putting their full attention and hard work into the job could cost fair-goers their lives.

Personally, I have been attending the NC state fair annually since I was six years old. Fall has always been my favorite time of year because the cool air and pumpkin patches mean the state fair is just around the corner. Safety was never a concern of mine when visiting the fair, but only because I was unaware that rides had the possibility of malfunctioning. It wasn’t until 2013, when I saw on the news that an NC state fair ride had broken down and left five people seriously injured. As we grow up and are exposed to more things, we understand the dangers around us and must choose to avoid them. These problems and concerns were shielded from me, and most other people, as a child. “When I was little, I never thought about my safety. I was always too focused on the rides and games to think about anything else. Now that I’m older, I think about my safety a lot when I go on rides, especially at the fair. I’m almost scared because of all of the people who have died on them,” said Vaughn Toler, a Raleigh resident of 17 years.

The recent increase in state fair incidents has pushed many NC residents to avoid the fair all together. Although residents have the choice to visit the fair or not, choosing to attend the fair should not mean that you are choosing to put your life at stake.

Some NC residents are making the decision to go to the fair, but avoid specific rides in order to avoid malfunctions. “I don’t ride the swings or the Fireball. They both scare me and don’t seem very secure. The swings just don’t look like they are strong enough to hold you, and the Fireball is the ride that killed a person recently,” said Toler. Many other fair-goers have made the same decision to have their fun at the fair, but steer clear of any rides that they don’t feel are safe enough.

It is important that we put safety first and make sure that each and every attraction is as safe as possible for the rider. Although the fair is a place for enjoyment and entertainment, the safety of the attendees cannot be overlooked or pushed to the side. You know what they say- it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

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