NASCAR has come a long way with safety, ranging from seven-point harnesses to SAFER barriers, and importantly the introduction of the HANS device. Because of their many safety features, you may wonder whether NASCAR cars have airbags.
NASCAR cars do not have airbags. Instead, they have safety features that range from the 7-point harness system to window netting. Each safety feature keeps the driver restrained so well that airbags are not necessary. There could also be instances where an airbag would make the car less safe.
Below, we will go into more depth on why NASCAR cars do not have airbags. We will also explain safety features NASCAR cars have to protect a driver during a crash. Finally, we’ll discuss whether other motorsports have airbags, or if they use safety features similar to NASCAR.
Why Don’t NASCAR Cars Have Airbags?
NASCAR cars don’t have airbags as they’re simply not necessary. NASCAR drivers are restrained by 7-point harnesses and the HANS device, so an airbag wouldn’t do much good. Plus, it could activate in a minor collision that would leave the driver with a very limited view, which would be dangerous.
You may find it ironic that, as far as NASCAR has come in terms of safety over the decades and especially since 2001, that they don’t have airbags. But there is actually a good reason for this. It is important to remember that NASCAR cars are not road cars, and that alone means they require different safety features.
Since the goal in NASCAR is to go fast, which increases the likelihood of a severe crash, the more restrained a driver is, the better. But in a road car, the case is different. Bad crashes happen every day, but in a road car, there needs to be a fine balance between safety and comfort, the latter of which is not as much of a concern in NASCAR.
Because of this, seat belts in a road car must restrain you, but they must also give you room to move around because of the need for comfort. When a NASCAR driver crashes, the goal is to keep them immobile to avoid serious injury. But since you can move around more in a road car, there needs to be an additional feature in case of a crash, and that’s where the airbag comes in.
This helps cushion any impact your body might have with parts of the car like the steering wheel. But since a NASCAR driver is already restrained and is already so far back from the steering wheel, the airbag may not even reach them.
Air Bags Can Be A Hazard
If a NASCAR driver scrapes the wall or hits another car but only sustains minor damage that can be easily repaired in the pits, the airbag could become a safety hazard. This is because it can obstruct a driver’s view of the track by going off unnecessarily, which would force them to guide the car back to pit road with the help of their spotter.
The lack of sight the airbag causes would put other cars at risk. And if a driver hit another car, they would put it at-risk of the airbag deploying. You have also seen cars catch on fire during a crash. Although drivers wear fire-resistant suits, they will not protect a driver for a substantial amount of time.
If NASCAR cars had airbags and the car caught fire after a crash, the airbag could hinder their ability to promptly exit the car. This could result in the driver suffering serious burns, meaning an airbag could cause more harm than good.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR cars do not have airbags
• These would be unnecessary as the cars are fitted with many other safety features
• Airbags could actually make the cars less safe as they could deploy unnecessarily, disrupting the driver’s vision
What Protects A NASCAR Driver In A Crash?
Since Dale Earnhardt’s passing in 2001, the HANS Device became popular among drivers who otherwise would not have worn one. In October 2001, Blaise Alexander died in a crash in the ARCA series, coincidentally with Dale Earnhardt’s oldest son, Kerry Earnhardt, with the same injury that killed Dale – a basilar skull fracture.
This prompted NASCAR to mandate the HANS device. Since the device’s implementation, there have been no fatalities in the three highest levels of NASCAR. The HANS device is a U-shaped contraption that drapes over the driver’s shoulders at the neck, and down to their chest. On each end of the device, there is an anchor that attaches to both sides of the driver’s helmet.
This helps keep the driver from experiencing whiplash in a crash, and it has also come a long way in preventing basilar skull fractures that, before its mandate in late 2001, also caused the deaths of Kenny Irwin Jr. and Adam Petty.
Besides the HANS device, the SAFER barrier also protects the driver in a crash. Also known as a soft wall, SAFER barriers help absorb impact when drivers hit the wall. Because they absorb the impact of a crash so well, SAFER barriers have helped keep cars from ricocheting back onto the middle of the track and into oncoming cars, which could create bigger wrecks.
Since their introduction in 2002, SAFER barriers have since been installed at every oval track in NASCAR. You will see the older concrete walls behind the SAFER barrier when you get a close-up.
Seven-Point Harness System
Since 2015, NASCAR has mandated a seven-point harness system. Unlike the seat belt in your road car, the seven-point harness comprises two points across the lap, two down the shoulders, and an additional three harnesses called submarine belts. There is one spot in the center of the seat belt at which all seven harnesses attach.
Each belt in the harness system serves a unique purpose. The shoulder belts keep the driver’s upper body in place while the lap belts immobilize the thighs. Two of the three submarine belts are responsible for securing the driver’s pelvis, and the third runs directly down the driver’s front. Once buckled in, the driver can only fully move their arms and lower legs.
This, plus the HANS device, keeps the driver virtually immobile during a wreck, which negates the need for airbags.
Following Richard Petty’s rollover crash at Darlington in 1970, NASCAR mandated window netting. Since a driver’s hands and arms are still free during a wreck, it is often impossible for drivers to control them as a result of the high G-forces. This window netting ensures all body parts stay inside the car.
The window netting also allows safety crews to know that a driver is uninjured, or at worst, has received minor injuries, following a crash. Many drivers will pull their window netting down to signify they’re okay, but if the window netting remains up, it means there is a potential serious injury.
Then there is the roll cage, which keeps the car from collapsing onto the driver during a severe crash. Roll cages have been a NASCAR safety measure for decades, and they alone do a huge job to keep the driver from suffering serious injuries in the event of a crash.
KEY POINTS• Many different safety features protect a NASCAR driver during a crash
• The two most important are the seven-point harness and the HANS device
• NASCAR cars also feature window netting and roll cages
Do Other Motorsports Use Airbags?
Most other motorsports don’t use airbags, largely as they would provide no safety benefit. When you look at sports like F1, rally racing and IndyCar, they all use roll cages, restraint systems, and you will often see SAFER barriers. F1 also uses the halo device, which further protects the driver.
NASCAR cars do not have airbags. The 7-point harness system and the HANS device restrains a driver in the event of a crash, so there is no need for an airbag. Airbags could deploy during a minor collision, which may make the car less safe since they can obstruct a driver’s view of the track.