The growing zip line industry isn’t regulated by any government authority in Kentucky.
The Lexington Herald Leader reported that no federal or state agency is charged with keeping track of the safety of the attractions that allow people to “zip” over an area high above the ground.
State lawmakers decided in 2012 to exempt the Kentucky Agriculture Department from overseeing zip lines. The department says it doesn’t have the manpower to adequately monitor the growing activity.
“You know how they inspected zip lines prior to this administration?” asked Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff to Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. “We were told they just sent the biggest ol’ boy they could find down the line. If he made it, it was considered safe. Seriously. And we weren’t going to be a part of vouching for something if we couldn’t be sure it was safe.”
That leaves the zip line industry to self-regulate. Several zip line operators in central and eastern Kentucky say they conduct several in-house inspections each year and have outside inspections annually by companies that are certified through the Association for Challenge Course Technology.
“We’ve had 50,000 participants since we opened in 1992 and we have never had an issue,” said Trent Ellsworth, director of Asbury University’s Center for Adventure Leadership in Wilmore.
Most states consider zip lines a “sport” and do not regulate them, but Tennessee began inspections after several zip lining accidents happened there.
“Some were pretty good about self-regulating, but some, quite frankly, were not,” said Lee Bentley, the state’s amusement device inspector manager.
He says inspectors are at a disadvantage because not all operators register with the state as they are supposed to.
“We’re still in the process of trying to locate all of them,” Bentley said. “Sometimes we’ll be driving to do an inspection at one place and we’ll see a new one that we didn’t know about because they didn’t register, so we’ll have to stop and remind them about the law.”
Jonathan Brooks, president of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, said more regulations are likely to come as the popularity of zip lines increase.
‘They’re popping up everywhere,” Brooks said. “As time goes on, I think you’ll see more and more states say, ‘Yeah, we need to start regulating these. We need a minimum set of standards for everyone to make sure this zip line isn’t just a cable loosely attached to a light pole.”’