Is Go-Karting Dangerous? (4 Tips To Stay Safe)

Share this article

Many people new to the sport wonder if go-karting is dangerous and how you can race safely. Years of improvement have seen the introduction of mandatory helmets and overalls, even for those who arrive to rent karts only for the day. But you may still wonder if karting is a safe sport.

Go-karting can be dangerous, but with the right gear it can be a safe family sport. The chances of you getting injured in karting are fairly low, although there is always some level of risk in motorsport. You can eliminate most karting dangers with proper safety gear and good driving practices.

Although this might be alarming to new kart owners, it’s far better to be aware of the risks as opposed to hoping for the best during your first time out on track. I go through some karting safety statistics below, discussing the most common karting injuries, before listing out my top go-kart safety tips.

Many kart drivers racing on a track with the lead kart driving through a cloud of smoke, Is Karting Dangerous?

Go-Kart Safety Statistics

Multiple studies have been carried out across the world to determine how safe go-karting is. In a Hong Kong study from 2002, they treated 42 patients for injuries that occurred as a direct result of go-karting. All patients except one were drivers. 64.3% of these patients had a single injury from the list of the most common ones in the next section of this article.

Most of the 42 patients (64.2%) only suffered soft tissue trauma and didn’t require any type of operation, with 31% having a fracture of varying 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.

The Most Common Cause

Looking at these statistics, it’s pretty clear that most karting 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.

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 about safety gear and sound driving practices. If you are aware of what can happen when things go wrong, you will likely take more steps to ensure that these things don’t occur.

Are Go-Kart Accidents Common?

Go-karting accidents are relatively common. While it is a non-contact sport, some contact between karts is inevitable. It can be difficult to avoid crashes when there are many karts on track going at high speeds, and that is why accidents are fairly common.

The problem with karting is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a good driver, as there are other drivers on the track that you need to navigate around and other drivers can cause accidents. If you’re in rental karting, then you need to be extra careful as the drivers that are on track with you might also be inexperienced.

Karting is not a contact sport, but the tracks are typically narrow and karts are often touching one another if you’re racing in close quarters. If two karts touch, it’s easy for both of them to lose control and spin out or end up in the barriers. These accidents aren’t necessarily severe, and they usually don’t result in serious damage or injuries.

Types Of Injury In Karting

According to a 2010 study, the most common karting injuries are:

  • Whiplash
  • Fractures and broken bones
  • Head trauma
  • Burns

Envisage yourself in a go-kart going round 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 type of injury, by accidentally touching the engine or fuel tank while alighting from the kart, or you can encounter fuel leaks during a crash. There are lots of other potential injuries, as there would be with any form of motorsport – or indeed any sport in general. But these are the most common go-karting injuries.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid karting altogether, but it does make some people particularly vulnerable. The high speeds and stressful nature of karting makes it unsuitable for pregnant people, and the inherent dangers mean young kids need to start off in slower, safer karts in dedicated kid karting series to ensure their safety (and enjoyment).

KEY POINTS

• The most common karting injuries are whiplash, head trauma, fractures and burns

• The most common cause of karting injuries is driver error

• Learning the basics of karting safety can minimize the risk of injury

Is Karting Safe For Kids?

Karting is safe for kids if you take the proper safety precautions. In both rental karts and racing karts you can find a kids category with limited engine power and therefore lower speeds (usually 50cc go-karts). These kids’ karts are also smaller in terms of size and chassis, which makes them lighter and easier to handle.

In most cases, these kids’ karts can’t go fast enough for a very serious accident to happen, so they are completely safe. Kids can bump into other karts or drive into the barriers, but they won’t hurt themselves with the impact if they’re kitted out in the right safety gear.

In rental karts, the kid’s versions can also be controlled remotely. If one of the kids drives dangerously or erratically, their kart can be stopped and brought to the pits by a staff member. This makes it a much safer and more fun environment for all the other kids who want to enjoy their time on the track.

Always make sure that kids are wearing the required safety gear when they get into a go-kart. Even though the karts are slower than adult karts, you still need to make sure that you take every precaution to keep them safe. I’ll list the most essential pieces of kart safety gear after I go through my top tips for staying safe while go-karting.

4 Karting Safety Tips

1. Keep 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 (more on that in a moment), 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 stay vigilant on the circuit.

2. Attend The Safety Briefing

Something else that is hugely important in ensuring you and your family’s safety at a go-kart track is for every driver to attend the safety briefing before any event. 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 Hong Kong study I mentioned earlier was that these briefings, due to being conducted by race stewards and marshals as opposed to drivers with track experience, can be somewhat ineffectual on their own. 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. So, don’t be afraid to join in!

3. Use The Correct Seating Position

Most karting injuries and accidents can be prevented by using the correct seating position. Many people tend to use the incorrect seating position because they don’t know how to adjust their position or they find the correct driving position comfortable.

The ideal seating position in karting is upright with your knees slightly bent when touching the pedals. You should be able to easily press both pedals down fully while your legs are still slightly bent. Your hands should be in something close to the 9 and 3 positions on the steering wheel with your elbows also slightly bent.

Sitting too close or too far from the steering wheel and pedals means that you won’t have full control over your kart. You will struggle to steer the kart or you might find your feet slipping off the pedals. This is a recipe for disaster and you’re likely to run into trouble.

4. Stay Aware Of Your Surroundings

When you’re driving you need to make sure that you’re always aware of what’s happening around you. It’s often difficult because of the adrenaline and excitement of being in a kart and going fast, but if you’re not fully aware of your surroundings you could cause or become involved in an accident.

The key is to always focus on what’s happening in front of you. If a kart spins out or crashes up ahead, you need to be able to avoid it. Remember, your kart will follow your eyes, so always look for the gap rather than staring at the incident itself. If you’re looking at other karts crashing, you’re probably going to go in their direction!

You also need to remember not to look behind you. While it can be okay in some cases (i.e. not in the corners), most of the time it’s not going to help you and may just hinder you. You’ll be able to hear when a rival is close to you, and you can use your peripheral vision to gauge distances when they’re close enough. Looking backwards too often or at the wrong times can lead to accidents!

Essential Karting Safety Gear

Karting is a dangerous sport, just like any other form of motorsport. Karts might not look fast or intimidating, but they can be extremely dangerous even at the rental level. If you hit another kart at the wrong angle or take too much speed into the barriers, it’s easy to flip a kart over or end up on top of another kart. You should always wear safety gear in karting.

Most of the incidents that we mention in the section below are worst case scenarios and are uncommon in karting. There are scenarios where karts flip, land on top of one another, or drivers are thrown out of the kart, but it’s not always the case. While this does happen, some drivers can go their entire lives without even seeing it happen at a race track.

As always though, it’s better to be prepared for the worst rather than to have something happen and regret not taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself when jumping into a go-kart.

Underwear

The first piece of safety gear that drivers need is their underwear. This is more often found in racing rather than rental karts because of the higher risks involved. Generally, rental karting carries less risk which is why it’s not a huge requirement for drivers to wear the full kit, but if you’re cautious it might still be worthwhile.

In racing karts, the fire resistant underwear is more important though. There is less bodywork covering the hot engine and exhaust, plus having fuel and lubricants around these hot areas greatly increases the risk of a fire breaking out. In a worst case scenario, fire resistant underwear could save a life.

The fuel tank is also directly in front of the driver, which means that there is a huge risk of fuel spilling out and onto the driver in the case of a severe accident. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting drivers against fire.

Race Suit

The race suit or racing overalls go on top of the fire resistant underwear. Once again, the race suit is not as common to find in rental karts as it would in racing karts, but there are some circuits and rental kart companies that insist on drivers using race suits. In this case, they would rent out the race suits to drivers who have paid for their time in the kart.

Karting race suits are slightly different to the race suits you would use in a car or other forms of motorsport. Where other forms of motorsport have a heavy focus on fire resistance, karting race suits are used to protect against abrasion instead. There is still an element of fire resistance in karting race suits, but it’s not their main focus and goal.

Karts are open cockpit vehicles, and they don’t have any seatbelts/ this puts the driver at risk to the elements, especially when the kart flips or if they are thrown out of the kart. The driver must be protected from the rough tarmac or any other surface that they come into contact with once they have been thrown out of the kart.

Boots

Another crucial part of the protection equipment that karting drivers need is racing boots. Karting boots are different to normal shoes. When it comes to boots, it’s not so much about the abrasion or fire resistance, but rather control that it gives the driver over their pedals. As such, it’s technically not safety gear, but it’s still part of the important safety equipment.

Karting boots have extremely thin soles which makes them comfortable, but it also makes it much easier for the driver to feel their pedals through the boots. The driver can move their feet around and still easily feel the pedal through their soles. This also allows the driver to be more precise with their throttle and brake pedals.

In addition, karting boots have unique grips underneath the soles, which gives the driver’s feet more leverage and prevents their feet from slipping off the pedals, especially in the wet. This is important in racing karts where it’s easy to let your feet slide off the pedals if you’re not focusing when wearing sneakers or trainers.

Gloves

Gloves are another important piece of safety gear that drivers need. Just like the other equipment above, these aren’t essential when it comes to most rental karting companies. However, it is still highly recommended to use gloves of some sort when karting, even if they aren’t proper racing gloves.

There have been scenarios where a kart lands on top of another one, and this could easily break a finger, or worse. It’s not uncommon for karts to launch up into the air when they hit tire barriers at speed, and there is always the risk of one kart landing on top of another one, especially in rental karts where drivers are inexperienced.

Gloves are also important because they will help the driver to deal with the steering wheel. As we mentioned earlier, drivers need to have immense grip strength and they need to deal with the challenging steering wheels that karts have, Wearing gloves can prevent cramping on your hands and wrists, and they can be helpful in preventing blisters too.

Finally, gloves are also important in abrasion resistance. If a driver is thrown out of the kart, their natural instinct would be to put their hands out in front of them to brace for impact. However, scraping your hands across the tarmac at high speed will be painful if you’re not wearing any gloves.

Helmet

While it might seem like an obvious one, the helmet is the most important piece of safety gear that a driver can have. Every time you get into a kart, you need to make sure that you’re wearing a helmet. Helmets are life savers in karting, and if you don’t have one of your own, you need to rent one at the very least.

Helmets will protect your head from any kind of impact. Whether you’ve been thrown out of the kart or you’ve gone into the barriers, a helmet will prevent you from getting severe injuries. Helmets are essential in any form of motorsport, but they are even more important in karting because of the open wheel nature of the karts.

Many rental karting companies will remove the visors of their helmets because of damage and scratches. However, the visor is just as important as the helmet itself. Your eyes are extremely sensitive and it’s not impossible for debris like a piece of plastic or a stone to be kicked up by a kart in front of you and hit your eyes. Make sure to protect them at all costs, even if you have to wear sunglasses.

Rib Protector

Rib protectors aren’t essential for karting, but they are highly recommended by drivers all over the world. Even in racing karts, rib protectors are not essential and are always an optional extra. Every other piece of safety gear above is a requirement in FIA events, but rib protectors aren’t, so it’s not a big deal if you don’t want to use one.

However, in karting, a rib protector makes a huge difference. Karting seats are not designed for comfort. It’s common for the drivers to struggle with bruised ribs after a weekend’s racing, especially on a bumpy circuit. Drivers even begin to struggle with sore ribs during a race, and this affects their performance on track too.

In the long run, drivers who do not use rib protectors also suffer. There are plenty of drivers who spent decades in karting without rib protectors who are now struggling with sensitive and sore ribs permanently. Ultimately, it’s not worth driving a kart without a rib protector!

Does Karting Hurt?

Karting is an extremely physical sport. While it might not be a severe contact sport like rugby or American football, it’s physical in a unique way. Karting requires drivers to be extremely fit, far more than most people expect. If you don’t believe that, you need to try driving rental karts for at least half an hour straight to see what it’s like.

The main reason why it hurts to drive karts is because of the G-forces, which is something that our bodies are not naturally equipped to deal with. It might not be Formula 1 or fighter jet level, but the G-forces that drivers experience in karting are still stronger than what people are used to. That’s why you’ll wake up feeling sore all over the next day after you’ve been in a go-kart.

Drivers also often experience a lot of wrist pain when karting, especially in dirt karting. That’s because drivers tend to grip the wheel too tightly when they are in a kart. Karts have unique steering that require you to hold on tight, but if you grip the wheel too tight for too long, you’re going to feel your wrists aching and spasming. It’s a sign that you need more grip strength!

Finally, drivers often experience pain in their ribs and chest when karting. This is because of the seating position, and the seat itself in the kart. Because of how low the kart is, you’ll feel any bump in the track, and if you hit a bump or fly through a fast corner, your rubs are going to hit the seat with a hefty impact. It’s not uncommon to have bruises from karting even if you haven’t been in an accident.

Final Thoughts

Karting does have inherent dangers. By attending safety briefings, picking the appropriate kart, using the right safety equipment, and staying observant on the track, karting can be a safe sport for everyone involved.