Racing Safety Part I: Who are you driving with?

We’ll be doing a series of safety centric posts, all while trying not to be too preachy. This first post examines the safety attitudes of recreational racers. Little research exists on the current safety culture for the auto racing industry, both amateur and professional. Aviation has guiding documents & philosophies, like CRM, that mandate things like rest. But for us, best judgment is what is at play for how long and hard we race. There is no regulation saying you need 12 hours of crew rest or any guidance on time between “bottle to throttle”. Additionally, the temperature is already hot, triple digits in the summer. Couple that with hot cars and any additional safety equipment one may be wearing and the thermal burden is high, and so is the potential for fatigue. Mentally, there are many track rules and signals to be aware of, what other cars are doing, and one’s own performance. Put simply —racing is physically and mentally demanding. The events are full day, sometimes extending into the night. Not to mention any work that may need to be done on a car after a test day, getting ready for a race day.

In scientific terms:

  • No regulations or “fit to race” guidance
  • Triple digit days + radiant heat from asphalt + tires heating asphalt + heat from the car + added bulk from safety equipment (helmets, race suits, etc.) = high thermal load
  • Physical effects of prolonged exposure to vibration
  • Physical effects of exposure to G during acceleration and cornering
  • Cognitive demands of remembering track rules and signals, while maintaining situation awareness of own vehicle and other vehicles.
  • Fatigue from the long events & physical & environmental factors

We were interested in a small snapshot into what the safety culture might be like on a given track day. So, Jager Racing did a pretty simple track safety survey. Safety & risk can be somewhat subjective and arguable, but we went with aspects of human performance that scientific research backs up as important in influencing safety, and are often cited as causes in accidents. The purpose of this field survey was to gain insight into the safety attitudes of recreational racers regarding risk, safety, and fatigue. Here’s what the survey looked like:

survey

We also asked some open ended questions about sleep habits, nutrition, etc. We had a very small sample, nothing to do fancy statistics on, but enough to gain some interesting insights. They looked like this:

  • 9 males, 1 female
  • Mean age = 27.2, age range: 22-43 years
  • Mean experience= 5.1, track experience range: 1-27 years

Time for the results…. 70% of participants said that they agreed aggressive driving is discouraged at the track. Keep in mind, this survey is limited to one track event company, so not a lot of generalizations can be made about track days in general. Again, most (70%), of people agreed adequate personnel are on hand to deal with emergencies. Additionally, 90% said that they had invested in quality personal protective equipment, and no one disagreed. Sounding pretty good, right? It’s about to get interesting…Let’s talk about how we perceive our behavior versus others’ behavior…

safety standards

So, that’s interesting. While most(90%) of participants agreed their cars met or exceeded safety standards, only 30% agreed that others’ cars met or exceeded safety standards. Hrmmm…

Well, 60% surveyed agreed danger and risk make the driving exciting. Perhaps it’s all those other hooptie cars out there spicing it up for the rest of us in our perceived safe cars.

Everyone surveyed said they stay well hydrated during track events. That’s awesome. But, a potential confound is that this track company provides free water at events. Would it be the same if they didn’t? fatigue

Responses to the fatigue question were split; 40% disagreed they would continue racing, and 40% agreed they would race even if fatigued.

rules

While all participants agreed they thoroughly understand track rules and signals, only 30% of participants agreed that others had a thorough understanding. Probably those bastards driving those hooptie subpar cars out there again who don’t know the signals. But seriously, the math doesn’t add up. There’s a misperception of ourselves or others. It’s likely a combination of both.

Because the sleep question was a fill in response, many people responded with a range. For those responses, all values in the range were plotted.

snooze

Here are the results of some of the additional questions:

  • Q: Have you ever had an accident (damages >$500)?
  • Most (70%) had not
  • Q: How regularly do you eat?
  • 50% of participants ate only once per day, the other half ate multiple times
  • Q: What do you typically eat?
  • Answers were categorized into fast food or healthy food; 70% of participants ate fast food and 30% ate healthy food.
  • Q: How far do you typically drive?
  • The response for this varied because no track was specified, but on average participants drove approximately 100 miles to get to the track.

So, what can we get out of this very limited survey?It seems that overall, people take care of their cars and their protective equipment, but there may be a large room for improvement for taking care of oneself in other ways (sleep, nutrition, fatigue). One of the cheapest ways to make some quick safety improvements at the track could be as simple as getting an hour more of sleep, or grabbing a decently healthy snack. Be smart and stay safe!

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