Car Seats and the 5 point harness – from a race car drivers perspective

I began racing go karts when I was 7 years old, after 7 years I was pretty good, accumulating multiple wins and championships before my 13th birthday, all without a seatbelt.   It’s crazy really, when I turned 12 I was racing 80cc Shifter Karts.   That may not sound like much, but travelling 60-80mph an inch (or sometimes dragging) on the ground in an open wheeled car with no seat belts is quite the rush.

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Alison MacLeod-Reynolds go kart race

You see, it has been deemed safer for the driver of a go-kart to be ejected in a wreck, then to flip and have the kart land on the exposed head.

At 14, I was asked to join Ford Motor Company as a driver in the USAC Ford Focus series, this would be my first time in a car with an enclosed cockpit.  I remember going for my test, they got me in the car, did up my 5 point harness (which was extremely difficult, because the shorter the belts the less movement, so it was tight just to get on)  then with a screwdriver through the belt loop, Evan put both feet on the side of the car and started YANKING on the belts.  I couldn’t breathe, it was uncomfortable to say the least, we hit the road and did a few laps and the belts loosened as my body relaxed down into the seat.   Every time after that was the same, yanking and pulling on the belts to make sure they were tight, and they would always remind me to pull them tight again before we went green.

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My Hero Card – Circa 2009

Why did they care so much about the belts?

Surely, In a 5 point harness, hans device and helmet I was safe right?  Hell, I just came from a series that didn’t even use seat belts.

Well here’s the thing.  Belts stretch.

So let’s talk about that.  Belts stretch for a number of reasons.

1. Belts stretch to absorb some of the impact of the body moving forward.

2.Belts stretch because they are made of tightly woven fabric, that inevitably will stretch out with force.

3.Belts stretch approximately 10% in a crash… that might not seem like a lot but lets consider just how much that is.  The average race car belt is around 120″ in total length (lap and shoulder at the largest length) that is 10 feet of belt.  That would equal 1 FOOT of overall stretch.  Of course a baby seat would have less than that, probably around 4 feet of overall length resulting in 5 inches of stretch.  Almost half a foot.  Loosen your child’s belts 5 inches and see how much that is.

I learned first hand.  I can very vividly remember my first and only roll over accident that I ever had in a race car, after taking the green flag I entered the first corner faster than the car in front of me, I had no where to go and managed to climb the wheel of the the car in front, sending me straight into the wall and then rolling down the track.  When I hit the wall, my belts stretched to absorb some of the impact, but then I began to roll and since my belts were now loose there was nothing holding my hans device in place anymore and it was able to rotate slightly below the belts.  When I made impact with the ground the HANS device was in a rotated position and broke my clavicle.  If my belts had of been loose, I would have likely been ejected.


So where am I going with this?  Your child may be uncomfortable the first few times you do up the belts, but they will get used to it, I know I did.  Besides the obvious issues with loose seat belts, here are some facts you may not know.

1. loose seat belts with a tight base causes an even larger problem, this causes the child to rely entirely on the seatbelt to absorb the impact instead of the entire seat, leading to an increased impact between the child and the seat belts.

2. loose seat belts result in excess stretch, allowing a child to be ejected in an accident

3. rear facing is safer in both FRONT and REAR collisions.  There is absolutely NO reason to turn your child front facing before 2 years of age.

4. Improperly placed chest straps are just as dangerous.  Too low and the child can be ejected, too high and the child can be strangled.

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