Open cockpit auto racing increases the risk for brain injury

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DAYTONA MOTOR SPEEDWAY, Fla. -- The Air Force Ford-sponsored Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford Taurus, driven by Ricky Rudd, is shown here during a practice run Feb 11.  He is preparing for the Daytona 500 race, which will be held here Feb. 15.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Larry McTighe)

Wikipedia Images (U.S. Air Force photo by Larry McTighe)

In recent years years we have been paying more attention to athletes and traumatic brain injury, including auto racing where drivers are exposed to enormous risk. Just in the past two years we have seen tragic accidents producing severe brain injuries such as the one Michael Schumacher survived and the accident which recently claimed the life of Jules Bianchi. Attention has turned to open cockpit racing which ranges from Indy cars to Formula 1 to dragsters. Through misfortune we have learned that open cockpit racing brings greater risk of brain injury from crashes as well as the risk of being hit by flying debris such as the mishap which took the life of Justin Wilson. NASCAR, although not open cockpit, has had its share of brain injuries such as the one which took the life of the NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt.

Cars are being designed to go incredibly fast and safety isn’t keeping up with the speed these cars can attain or the risks of contact with debris from collisions. We know that speed and innovative design attracts people to motorsports. As competent and finely tuned as the drivers are, there are certain types of events which increase the risk of TBI. The pressure is coming on to auto racing authorities to reduce risks of brain injury. I think it can be done without watering down the sport. The thrill of racing is watching a competent driver handle a machine at speed. For me personally, the thrill of racing has nothing to do with exposing the driver to greater risk when small changes to car design could save lives.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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