Since the 1950s when go-karting truly began as a motorsport, the question of whether the activity is safe has persisted. Years of improvement have seen the introduction of mandatory helmets and overalls, even for those who arrive to rent karts only for the day.
So, is karting a safe family sport? Injury statistics show that almost half of the people who sustain injury are those under 24 years of age. Karting possesses a variety of potential injuries, ranging from whiplash of varying degrees and head trauma, all the way up to burns. Overall, injury risk rates are considered to be low.
Although these facts might be alarming, it’s far better to be aware of the risks as opposed to hoping for the best during your first time karting. To better understand all of the potential risks and how to avoid them, make sure to read on.
Types Of Injury In Karting
Motorsports as a whole have a large potential for injury, and this is an unavoidable fact to remember. For every type of injury you can encounter however, there is a collection of gear and other items to help protect you. The most common injuries you can encounter are (source):
- Fractures and broken bones
- Head trauma
Envisage yourself in a go-kart, circling any kind of track and it won’t be too difficult to imagine the potential for most of these injuries. Spinning your kart can result in a hard impact with the safety barriers, and that can lead to whiplash, neck strain and fractures depending on where you have your hands positioned at the time.
Burns can be a passive manner of injury, by accidentally touching the engine or fuel tank while alighting from the kart, or you can encounter fuel leaks during a crash.
Multiple studies have been conducted the world over, with hospitals in the Netherlands (source) and Hong Kong (source) having published these reports with their findings about the risks of karting and what statistics they can link to the accidents.
In the Hong Kong study during the year of 2002, they treated 42 patients for injuries that occurred directly from go-karting. All patients except one were drivers. 64.3% of these patients had a single injury in the previously mentioned categories.
Most of the 42 patients admitted (64.2%) only suffered soft tissue trauma and didn’t require any manner of operation, with 31% having a fracture of varied severity. When asking the patients for details of their injury, collision with other karts on the track was found to be the most common cause.
Looking at these statistics, it’s pretty clear that most injuries are easily treatable and don’t cause lasting problems. And when you see that almost all 42 of the patients had collided with others on the go-kart circuit, it is regrettably in the realms of driver error.
Every time any motorsport enthusiast gets into any kind of moving vehicle, especially one that is open to the elements like go-karts are, they run the risk of incurring any of these injuries. Consider the statistics for normal road vehicle crashes and how dangerous regular driving can be, and it will make a lot more sense why karting involves a lot of the same risks.
But as with anything of this nature, there are a lot of ways to mitigate these dangers and a lot of that comes from education. If you are aware of what can happen when things go wrong, you will take more and more steps to ensure that these things don’t occur.
Building good safety habits can save you and your family a huge amount of pain, so bear with me while I go into detail about how you can take active steps to make go-karting both exciting and safe.
Keeping A Safe Gap
Perhaps the easiest and one of the most valuable things about karting I can say is this: go-karts are not bumper cars!! I’ve experienced a lot of other drivers on the track bumping and rough-housing during races, and it’s simply unsafe. During every driver safety briefing, the marshals and stewards will say the same.
It’s important to always maintain a safe distance from any other karts on the track, give your fellow drivers enough room to brake and take corners, and otherwise stay vigilant on the circuit. There can be obstacles that blow onto tracks and cause chaos to any drivers who aren’t paying attention to where they’re putting their kart.
Aside from staying observant while driving, and generally taking time to get familiar with a kart as opposed to stomping the gas right off the bat, it’s important to remember your key safety equipment. When renting a go-kart, you will be required to wear a crash helmet and race suit.
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Different tracks have different rules about whether they offer race gloves, but always make sure to request a pair. Not only will your hands have a better chance of not getting blistered, but it will cover more of your body to help protect against burn injuries. Coupled with a race suit and a pair of sensible shoes, such as closed-in sneakers or boots, your risk of getting burnt is drastically reduced.
As of right now, it isn’t a regulation for go-karts to have a seat-belt installed, which means that you have a chance to be thrown onto your steering wheel when crashing. To give you peace of mind, do some research on kart circuits and find out which ones offer indoor or outdoor karts with seatbelts.
If you and your family are new to the sport, I would recommend looking at indoor circuits as opposed to those situated outdoors. This is because indoor karts have lower top speeds than their outdoor cousins, and more often than not, you can find seatbelts as standard. Not only that, but the safety/crash barriers come equipped with padding to soften any blows that might happen.
Something else that is hugely important in ensuring the family’s safety at a go-kart track is for every driver to attend the safety briefing before any karting event. As I mentioned before, your experience as a kart driver doesn’t make you exempt from bad injuries! The safety briefing is designed to talk about the track you’re about to race on specifically, which is of paramount importance.
One of the findings from the Chinese study was that these briefings, due to being conducted by race stewards and marshals as opposed to drivers with track experience, can be somewhat ineffectual. While listening to the safety briefing, take some time to ask if the stewards have driven the track themselves and what they would specifically look out for.
Whether it be a nasty right-hander or a deceptive divot in the ground on the race straight, these kinds of details can be vital to know when going out onto a kart track for the first time. More and more tracks are looking to kart racers to give their own two cents during these briefings, and to make them more interactive to properly engage the race-goers.
Almost every activity has its fair share of risks involved, and go-karting is no exception. As I’ve outlined during this article, however, it’s important to be aware of what risks you’ll be facing and to take the proper steps to minimize them.
With knowledge gained from safety briefings, picking the right circuit and kart speed for your family to enjoy, asking for extra safety equipment for better security, and staying observant on the track itself, you’ll be having a blast with karting in no time!