Despite traveling at extremely fast speeds, NASCAR cars don't have airbags as a form of protection for drivers. This article will explore the history of airbags in race cars, the reasoning behind not having airbags, risks that come with not having airbags, and alternative safety measures in NASCAR.
The first racing cars were actually normal cars that any person could have purchased from a car dealership. In the late 1940s, rules and regulations were put in place for cars to meet in order to compete in NASCAR events. Since events were held on dirt tracks, safety modifications had to be made to the racing cars. As the years progressed, the safety and durability of the vehicles greatly improved. There became a point when airbags no longer had a purpose in race cars since the safety mechanisms were much stronger and comprehensive. In the current day, racing cars are designed and built completely differently than normal cars.
There are so many safety measures incorporated into NASCAR cars that it is not necessary to have airbags as well. The effectiveness of safety measures in race cars simply outweighs the need to have airbags. Safety precautions such as the roll cage, five-point seat belt, window net, roof flap, restrictor plate, and driver's gear help keep race participants safe. Race cars are also built in a way to minimize the amount of force that drivers take on. Besides this major reason, airbags may only hinder the performance of NASCAR drivers. During a race, a driver may hit a serious bump, which could deploy an airbag and become a serious distraction. In addition, NASCAR drivers can drive at fast enough speeds that airbags won't be deployed quickly enough before impact is made with other objects.
There is a huge amount of risk when participating in NASCAR events. There has been a long list of fatal and non-fatal injuries since the creation of NASCAR. Since the beginning of NASCAR in the 1940s, there have been 28 fatal crashes in races. Most recently, Dale Earnhardt Sr. died from a crash during a race in 2001. Fortunately, there have been zero deaths at NASCAR events since then. This is mostly due to the serious implementation of safety devices and regulations by NASCAR officials. To put that into perspective, there were an estimated 38,800 people who lost their lives from car crashes on normal streets in 2019. Despite having airbags and driving at slower speeds, deadly crashes in normal cars occur quite often. This common safety device isn't completely effective in preventing serious injury in car crashes. NASCAR regulations have allowed for advanced methods to protect drivers. Therefore, there is no serious risk by not including airbags in NASCAR cars.
Rather than having airbags, NASCAR cars are built with other safety features to keep drivers safe. First off, the frame of the car itself is built out of collapsable parts that are meant to absorb the shock of crashing into objects at high speeds. The strong middle section is called a roll cage and is used to protect the drivers. The driver's seat is attached to the roll cage to ensure complete attachment to the foundation of the car. The seat belt is a part of a five-point harness system that keeps drivers directly in place. Window nets allow easy access out of the car without allowing arms to flail.
Roof flaps are used to help cars stay on the ground when travelling at extremely fast speeds. Without a set of roof flaps, race cars could easily become airborne if they hit another race car at the right angle. All drivers are required to wear fire-retardant suits that protect them from heat and flying objects. An obvious safety precaution is the helmet that all drivers must wear. Without this device, concussions would become a lot more prevalent.
Perhaps one of the most important safety precautions is a harness collar made of carbon fiber called a HANS device. This harness is worn on the upper body of drivers and helps minimize the amount of force that is put on a driver's neck during a crash. All of these devices exist to help protect participants in a very dangerous sport. Airbags no longer serve a purpose when drivers are being protected in many other ways.