Despite what NASCAR officials unveiled this week on their investigation into the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), is urging NASCAR to take the lead now in formulating and implementing solutions to improve racing safety.
"How many more deaths must occur on the racetrack before they take positive safety steps," said Carmen Daecher, ASSE''s transportation practice specialty administrator. "NASCAR is just keeping their head in the sand."
Following last year''s deaths of drivers Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Adam Petty in racing accidents, ASSE sent a letter to NASCAR President Mike Helton Jan. 8, 2001 urging NASCAR to take steps to improve safety before the Daytona 500 race kicked off the 2001 NASCAR racing season.
Dale Earnhardt crashed and lost his life at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
In the letter, ASSE officials applauded NASCAR''s pioneering inventions in the area of safety resulting in many life-saving products and systems now utilized by the general public such as the fire safe/retardant protection suit; the self-contained gas tanks; the vehicle roll cages; and, their research into aerodynamic vehicle body changes aimed at slowing speed.
However, ASSE suggested that NASCAR move forward with increasing safety by putting up soft, energy-absorbing walls on race tracks, increasing the use of the HANS (head and neck support) system and utilizing "black box" crash recorders to garner data, and much more.
"NASCAR must take responsibility for the safety of the drivers," Daecher continued. "We applaud the fact that they did announce that they are moving forward with putting in the ''black box'' crash recorder in cars as we had recommended back in January of 2001, however they must move forward with mandating the use of head restraint systems."
"Anything that can be done to dissipate that crash energy from the occupant should be used. Using the black box recorder is a step in the right direction, but it doesn''t help all that much when you''re hitting a wall at 120 mph."
ASSE noted that the investment NASCAR makes in putting up the protective walls and implementing other such safety features will quadruple in worth over time as fatalities and injuries are reduced.
"It doesn''t cost NASCAR a penny to implement most of these life-saving initiatives," Daecher added.
by Virginia Foran