Safety First - What Do You Reckon 431

By: Glenn Torrens

Presented by

salt lake racer salt lake racer

Even when we're doing silly stuff with cars we need to be as safe as possible, reckons Glenn Torrens, but who makes the 'safe' decisions?

Regular readers will know I enjoy motorsports in my modified VW Beetles and have been a participant at Australian Speed Week’s high-speed salt-lake speed event for five years.

And even when doing ‘dangerous’ stuff, I want to be as safe as possible. That’s why I have several grand’s worth of roll-cage in my race car, an electric fuel pump cut-off switch, a $1500 race seat with a wrap-around head rest and – of course – I wear a helmet.

I also have a HANS device. I knew little of HANS – Head And Neck Support technology that keeps your neck stable during a crash – until racers and magazine test-drive colleagues John Bowe and Warren Luff drilled into me a great respect for this simple but awesomely safe F1-developed technology. In fact, I can remember Luffy basically pleading with me to never, ever strap myself into a race car without a HANS device ever, ever again. It’s compulsory for me and others to use at Australian Speed Week and a quick YouTube search for HANS proves why.

The technology works, and it’s not expensive.

| Read next: VW Beetle salt racer upgrades

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On the flip side, there have been a couple of significant incidents in Aussie motorsport in recent years when people who have not been wearing HANS devices have been critically injured. I witnessed a car flip and land heavily on its nose; the driver was walking and seemed okay but his condition worsened during the night and he was helicoptered to hospital in the small hours of the morning. He had a broken neck.

Another incident where a bloke doing life in a wheelchair  publicly declared, if he’d known about HANS-type technology, he would have been using it. Yes, it was motorsport but his crash was at an estimated 60km/h… hardly ‘fast’ compared to some track speeds.

I use my HANS device in motorsport even if it’s not compulsory: Speed Week (it’s mandatory – as are wrist restraints and other safety tech), my hill-climbs, the airport sprints I’ve done, my regular Wednesday night runs at Sydney Dragway and the street sprints I’ve attended at Geelong and Leyburn.

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So you can imagine my surprise when I read about an event that seemed to be loosening its safety regs by allowing participants to run what appeared to be quite fast with nothing more than a helmet. In fact, the event seemed to be putting a negative spin on the use of a HANS device by announcing: "Most competitors will no longer require a HANS…" as if it was a bad thing.

The event was a street sprint that I have not attended and so I do not know the layout nor conditions. But I can assume that, like other events, there would be some road-side furniture to hit. The event’s claim: "Unless highly modified, naturally aspirated 4 & 6 cylinder sedans and utes will not be capable of doing a [fast] lap time" hints to me the speeds would probably be a little higher than the typical 50 or 60km/h we’re all used to in town and in (mostly) street-based cars. It’s not the only one: Some events don’t require HANS until speeds are 200km/h or more, despite people suffering life-changing spinal injuries at just 60km/h.

As always a group of people out there will say, "I’ve never crashed," or "I’ve never had a problem…" with regard to not wearing a HANS device or using other simple but significant safety tech. Others will bleat: "It’s too expensive," or "It’s not worth it – I’ll only use it a few times a year…" But that’s missing the point. It’s your neck, people.

I’m all for affordable grass-roots motorsport but with the well-known (and usually well-managed) risks of motorsport, and the high level of safety equipment available today, I reckon it’s pretty-much negligent for an event to take a step backward with safety.

Even if you’re not fast enough to win your class, you should do everything you can to look after your neck! What do you reckon?

 

 

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