Pennsylvania to Begin Enforcing New Hayride Regulations. Will Other States Jump on the Haywagon?

Hayrides aren’t all fun and games: Over nearly 20 years, 22 people (including 14 children) have been killed in hayride incidences with another 160 injured in accidents. With these attractions on the upswing in popularity, public policy is also trending towards increased regulation. Explore with us a newly-adopted Pennsylvania regulation and the ecosystem in which it took root, as your state might be next for a regulatory approach to the issue.

As anyone who has taken a Farm Commons workshop on liability and agritourism knows (what?! You haven’t taken one of our workshops?! Discovering Resilience: A Legal Workshop for Farmers and Ranchers starts on March 2, so make sure to sign up now), the legal concept of negligence often drives liability for accidents on a hayride. The person who behaved negligently is the one who is liable, generally speaking. But that’s where the easy answers end! Negligence itself is a tricky concept and reasonable people (or their attorneys) can, and do, argue extensively about does and does not amount to negligence.

Our negligence-based framework is often frustrating to farmers who want clear answers about what they must do to avoid liability. Such reactionary approaches are unpredictable, expensive, and can create an arms race towards ever-increasing safeguards for hayriders. Especially as insurance companies begin implementing their own standards for their insureds, farmers are feeling the threat of unpredictable courtroom judgments. That exciting, bumpy, and thrilling ride through the field fades farther into the rearview for youngsters across the United States.

Yet, the alternative may not be more palatable to many farmers. Adopting a predictable and proactive approach that is evenly applied to all operators requires regulation. Where we have a clear, precise regulatory framework, farms have certainty about what they are required to do and clear repercussions should the expectations not be met. The regulatory standard becomes a consistent benchmark against which to assess negligence, as well. The inherent public policy tradeoffs between litigation and regulation are an age-old discussion that hayrides aren’t about to settle. So, we expect to continue to see the push and pull of regulations on hayride experiences.

In 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture begins enforcing new regulations that prescribe safety standards and inspection procedures for hayride amusements. In crafting their regulations, the state relied on ASTM International, an entity that drafts safety-driven technical standards for a wide range of industries. ASTM recently finalized their hayride standard in 2019, opening the door for state agencies to base their own standards on ASTM’s scientifically-driven and vetted process.

As a result, new hayride operators in Pennsylvania will need to show that the tow vehicle is adequately sized for the load, daily inspection is performed, and riders have clear loading and unloading areas, among other details.

To the extent these regulations create clarity for farmers, in courtrooms and with insurance companies, we may see more states adopt regulations like Pennsylvania. Stay tuned!