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Carnival Safety: Ensuring Rides are Secure for Your Kids

Luckily, Michigan has pretty strict rules for operators. But for extra assurance, here's how families can check on licenses, file a complaint and more.

It's that time of year in southeast Michigan, when carnivals start popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. From big municipal festivals that draw people for miles to a few rides in a school playground or a shopping center parking lot, you and your kids can indulge your love for heart-stopping thrill rides every weekend.

But many a parent has stared up at those Ferris wheels and pirate ship rides that sprang up overnight and wondered if they are really, truly safe.

The good news? Yes, most likely. You and your children are more likely to do something to cause an injury than you are to be hurt by a shoddy ride or careless operator.

The bad news? There's no requirement that rides be made child-safe; a safe ride for an adult is not necessarily safe for small kids to ride alone.

Here are some preventative (and, if needed, reactive) tips to ensure your kids are safe and sound on those midway rides.

Inspections: Nuts, bolts and red flags

Amusement rides are inspected once a year by the state Bureau of Consumer Services, says Mark Doman, manager of ski and amusement safety for the state of Michigan. You can look for a sticker somewhere on the ride, signed by the inspector with the date of inspection written on it.

Michigan actually has stronger inspection standards than other states; besides the annual inspections, all rides must undergo an engineering review process to be able to operate here. It was the first state to enact a statute requiring rides to be inspected, in 1966.

Owners submit an itinerary to the state with the locations they'll be at all season. New rides, rides that have never been in the state before, and new ride operators all must be inspected by the state on-site, at the first place they set the ride or rides up before they open to the public, Doman says. Existing rides from operators with a clean record can run with a temporary permit – ask about it if a ride is still sporting last year's sticker.

If a ride has a red sticker with a cross through it, though, that means it failed inspection and can't take on riders until the matter is fixed. If you see a carnival attempting to put people on rides with this sticker, file a complaint with the state immediately (and, of course, alert whoever is sponsoring the event).

How to file a complaint

So how do you formally voice your concern? File a complaint via the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA. Specifically, you'll be filling out a "Commercial Services Complaint Form" (you can download and print a PDF of that form here; check off "Carnival Ride" from the checkbox list at the bottom of the first page), and submitting that to LARA's Bureau of Commercial Services Enforcement Division.

You'll need to fill in details about the company, including its name, full address, telephone number and the name of the rep you dealt with. The second page also has space to briefly detail your complaint. (Be sure to fill out both sides.)

From there, you can mail the form to LARA (its address is at the top). You'll get a receipt of your complaint within 30 days, according the LARA website. After that, there's an investigation. If that proves "laws or rules may have been violated," LARA notes, a formal complaint gets filed (you'll receive a copy of that).

To learn more about this process, contact LARA at 517-241-9202 or download its PDF citizen's guide to filing a complaint.

License statuses

Again, Michigan's standards are pretty tough. But what if something's just not sitting right with you – or you're simply curious about an operator's credentials?

That's also something you can find on the Michigan LARA website amusement – there's a portion of the site dedicated to verifying a license, registration or permit. You can search by name, license number if you have it, or by license type or location.

You can browse additional information in the website's Licensing Services section.

More carnival ride safety tips

SaferParks.org is full of excellent information about how to make rides safer for young children, rules for kids and vulnerable adults to follow when they are riding, and stats on ride-related injuries. (There are even kids' activity pages they can do prior to a visit to a carnival.)

At-a-glance, here are a few of SaferParks.org's Safety Tips for Riders of All Ages (check out the site for more details):

  1. Read and obey all posted rules and restrictions – especially regarding height and age.
  2. Ensure the ride is appropriate for the rider (check that restraints will fit well and secure the person – and ride with your child until you're sure he or she can follow all the rules).
  3. Securely latch all restraints and use the grab bars. Always double-check!
  4. Stay in the "locked and loaded" position for the entire ride cycle, keeping those body parts and belongings well inside the ride.
  5. Take frequent breaks if you're riding high-g-force rides; overdoing it repeatedly can cause loss of consciousness.
  6. Stop riding before you get excessively tired.
  7. Drink plenty of fluids throughout your stay at an amusement park or carnival (dehydration can boost injury risk).

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