AUGUSTA, Maine — A new report from the Maine fire marshal’s office says there’s little the state can do to improve safety when it comes to farm hayrides in the Pine Tree State.
The report, the result of a working group set up in 2015 to review regulations for farm-based amusement rides, was issued in March by State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas.
The working group was formed by the Legislature after the death of Cassidy Charette, a 17-year-old Oakland girl who died while riding on a wagon being towed behind a Jeep during a haunted hayride at Harvest Hill Farms on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls. The Jeep driver lost control of the vehicle and the wagon overturned. Another 21 people were injured.
Like many states, Maine has no law regulating farmyard amusements or requiring safety inspections for hayrides. After the accident, national advocates for hayride safety urged Maine lawmakers and the U.S. Congress to create safety standards and an inspection regimen.
But the 11-member working group, headed by Thomas and staffed by individual “stakeholders” including four people from the Maine Antique Tractor Club, one person each from the Maine Campground Association, the Maine Fair Association and the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, and a member of the Maine State Police, determined the state does not have the capacity to inspect and regulate farm amusement rides.
“The Stakeholders group agreed that at the current time there is very little that can be done to regulate motorized farm rides,” Thomas and Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, wrote in a joint letter to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
In their letter, Thomas and Williams wrote the state would have to train specialized inspectors who would have to be skilled enough to evaluate a broad range of farm equipment used during farm amusement rides.
They also said an inspection protocol of that magnitude would come at considerable expense and still would be difficult to manage effectively.
The group did agree to put together a list of safety recommendations for those who want to conduct hayride amusement rides in Maine.
Among those recommendations is using vehicles that are rated properly to tow the loads they are going to haul, regular vehicle and equipment inspections and documented driver training.
The report also determined that there are between 250 to 400 motorized farm rides in Maine each year.
At least six different bills were submitted in 2015 in an attempt to regulate hayrides but lawmakers settled on a resolution that called for the working group’s review and report.