Schlitterbahn Waterslides are Dangerous but will Federal Regulation Help?


The terrible news from Kansas City about Caleb Schwab dying while riding one of the waterslides at the Schlitterbahn water park has hit a nerve with the public. The story is at the top of news feeds across the country and spurred calls for more regulations at such parks.

Currently there are no federal inspections of amusement parks at fixed locations. Carnivals and the like are subject to such rules. It is up to each state to inspect as often or as little as they think pertinent. Kansas has pretty lax regulations and the park in question hasn’t been inspected by anyone other than the owners in about four years which is before the slide in question went into service.

A Personal Interlude

First a personal story. I’ve got a friend in Austin and go to visit him pretty regularly. On one of those trips we headed to New Braunfels and spent an afternoon at the Schlitterbahn water park. We hung out and eventually climbed a large tower and went plummeting down the water slide. As we sloshed from side to side and I held on it became obvious to me the slide was quite dangerous; that if I wasn’t paying attention or was being a bit rambunctious I could easily cause myself serious injury or death. When we got to the bottom we just sort of looked at each other and neither of us suggested riding again.

I’ve had no desire to visit a water park or ride on a slide since then. I grew up going to Six Flags over Mid-America and in all that time I never felt anywhere near as concerned on any ride as I did on that water slide.

Unenforceable Rules at Waterslides

The ride that resulted in the death of Caleb has difficult if not impossible to enforce requirements. There must be two or three people in the raft with a total weight of between 400 and 550 pounds. The shortest anyone can be is 54 inches (4′ 6″) tall.

Now to the point of my blog. The terrible tragedy has a lot of people calling for Federal oversight at amusement parks and waterslides. Even with all that I’ve mentioned above, I’m of the opinion such regulations will do nothing to make rides safer.

Schlitterbahn has the most vested interest in keeping the park safe. This tragedy is costing them huge sums of money and I’m certain much personal grief as well.

Carnivals Are Not Safe Despite Federal Regulations

I’ve been to carnivals where the rides were filthy and likely unsafe. Many people are injured and killed each year on such rides despite supposed Federal inspections. Frankly, I’m highly skeptical such inspections take place regularly in any case. There isn’t enough time or personnel to make it happen.


So what’s the solution? While I oppose federal regulation on such rides as being both unworkable and ineffective; I’m completely for a national database to document all accidents, injuries, and deaths. The government should publish the results on an easily accessible website paid for with my tax dollars. Then it is up to the consumer to decide if they want to go or not. Vendors who operate unsafe rides will surely feel the pinch quickly.

This obviously doesn’t help those already injured or killed but the reality is nothing does.

What do you think?

What do think is the best solution to unsafe amusement park rides?

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Tom Liberman

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