Making Motorsports Events Safer For Crowds

Author / Mark Breen
10 Apr ‘17
People opting to participate in motorsports racing do so understanding the risks to themselves. For many, the risk and the rush is part of why they choose to participate. Those attending the event, however, have every right to expect to be as safe there as they would at any type of event.

That being the case, there are 2 broad safety imperative categories for motorsports events:

  1. The safety of those participating i.e. the drivers / riders
  2. The safety of those in the audience

Understanding the differences between those two is key to being able to plan and manage motorsports events safely. 

Key considerations

The likes of Formula 1, MotoGP etc. are big businesses and run as such. A lot of motorsports events around the world are actually run by voluntary clubs and committees who love the sport and love organising these events.

I've been involved in motorsports clubs that run motorcycle road racing events. I didn't stay involved long. What I saw, what I heard, what I felt all led me to walk away. 

Here are some of the key considerations with respect to safety at motorsports events.

#1. Motorsport events are inherently dangerous

The vast majority of motorsports events involve driving extremely fast. This means the driver / rider / co-driver are always in danger. They understand and accept the danger and choose to race anyway. With racers there is always an obvious personal responsibility element. They choose to race and they take the risks that come with it. 

The greater issue comes into play when you consider spectator safety. Spectators should be able to go to watch an event with a reasonable expectation of being safe at it. 

Spectators have a responsibility both to look after themselves and to positively engage with the volunteers / marshals / staff there looking to help keep them safe. 

With vehicles traveling at extreme speed there is always the risk of an accident and it's quite possible that accident might injure spectators. 

What's important is that organisers take all reasonable precautions and establish safe areas for spectators and unsafe (prohibited) areas.

#2. Two types of spectators

There are generally 2 different types of spectators at motorsports events. 

There are the enthusiasts who are very knowledgeable and very into the sport. They tend to arrive early to get their exact spot from which to watch the event and are used to long days and dodgy weather. The other type sees members of the general public, often locals, who are simply attending as it's a large event happening closely. 

Both groups can cause problems. 

The enthusiasts can be very difficult to direct and can often think they know better. They've likely been sitting in that same spot watching the racing for 23 years and they've never been injured so good luck moving them now just because the organisers have decided it's a Prohibited Area.

The general public attendees can cause issues due to not understanding what happens at motorsports events. They likely don't understand the concept of Prohibited Areas. They won't know the 'etiquette' involved. 

Any crowd manager will tell you it's vital to know your audience.

#3. Volunteers

Motorsports events quite often would not happen without volunteers.

I've seen first hand the passion and love these people have for their sport. There are challenges that come with that though. Turnover of people involved can be high. Budgets can be low. Understanding of the duty of care they have for spectators can be limited. Things can get lost in the mix / forgotten. 

Volunteers bring with them pros and cons.

#4. Press / Photographers

I have seen for myself the 'challenge' that members of the press can cause at these events. Photographers in particular tend to want to go into Prohibited Areas as they feel it'll be the best vantage point for them to get a great show. It may well be a great place to take a photo from but it may not be safe to be there. 

They'll often tell you they're happy to take the risk and that it's their call and you can't stop them.That's not really the case though as the organisers have a duty of care to ALL attending and, in the event of an incident, a judge may take a very dim view of the death of a photographer, arising out of him being permitted to stay in a Prohibited Area.

The press, in particular, needs managing to keep them safe.

#5. Who is responsible for safety?

The various motorsports have an organisational structure that see roles like Clerk of the Course exist. There are usually Stewards in attendance from the respective sports' governing bodies who have the power to delay or cancel the event should they deem it necessary. This Steward role generally does tend to involve an element of safety in its remit butcher's little understanding or consistency in how safety is implemented across the sports.

These events, much like any other events with large attendance numbers, should have experienced, qualified and insured Event Safety Staff, particularly Event Controllers and Safety Officers

That will likely mean the organisers incurring costs to provide same, which is a practical implication. Often, the organisers will find money to pay for all sorts of other things but safety tends not to be high up that list. It should be. 

These events need to have proper safety people involved in them. 

#6. Training

The training of marshals for motorsports events is lacking, generally speaking. Some sports and organisations are better than others but, generally speaking, training isn't top of the list of priorities.

The marshals MUST have an understanding of safety and how best to keep the spectators safe.

I've been involved in Event Safety Training for clubs running motorsports events and, while I think those in the room enjoyed the training and understood its importance, the powers-that-be didn't really embrace it. It was more of a token box-tick unfortunately. 

#7. Self-policing

Traditionally, there's been a strong element of self-policing within motorsports. 

Pressure from the crowd or groups within the crowd can force an uncooperative spectator to move or do as asked by marshals. 

This is usually achieved but the marshal explaining that until the spectator becomes cooperative the racing will not commence. This tends to occur when a marshal is trying to clear people from a prohibited area. 

Delaying the racing is a powerful tool available to the organisers and marshals but, naturally, can cause its own problems if actually implemented.

It's not an ideal solution by any means. Having professional security staff working the event does happen but, given that the courses for these events can be quite long, it's tough to have security throughout the course. 

Self-policing is not the way of the future though. 

#8. Bigger picture

Sometimes there can be very little thought put into the event beyond the confines of the event itself. As we say on our homepage - 'Your event has impacts beyond the event itself'. 

I've known events run when other events in the area were also happening, causing traffic issues and more. 

There's a local authority angle on this one too and their oversight or lack thereof impacts on things too. 

There need to be people involved who are looking at the bigger picture. 

#9. Event Planning

In my experience with these types of events there's rarely a comprehensive Event Management Plan done for them, in the same way other large mass gathering events would involve. Event Management Planning is key for all events when it comes to providing a safe environment for all involved.

There's generally a plan of sorts that mainly governs the actual racing itself and how it's run etc. but not an EMP in the 'events' sense. 

Any large event like these need proper Event Management Plans in place.

#10. Crowd management

These events can have tens of thousands of people or more at them. That's a lot of people who are there to enjoy themselves and probably don't have their own safety foremost in their minds. 

Add to those numbers the fact that these are motorsports events, with the extra dangers of fast-moving vehicles and the idea of running the events without professional event / crowd management people is shown up for the madness that it is.

There's a reason that companies like ours exist, which specialise in Crowd Consultancy.

#12. Risk assessments

Motorsports events need to be treated like any other mass gathering event in this respect, and proper risk assessments need to be carried out. Obviously, these events present greater and very particular risks and these need to be carefully managed too. 

That there are often NO risk assessments done for events like this is likely negligent. I don't think that's overstating it either. 

Risk assessments are key to any type of event and it's important they're done properly and by competent people.

#13. Hands-on spectators

There's an element very unique to motorsports events that sees spectators getting involved when a vehicle crashes. This happens particularly with the more amateur events.

For many spectators a large part of the buzz of attending motorsports events is helping getting a bike or car back on the road once it crashes. It's part of the culture of motorsports and it's not going to go away tomorrow or any time soon. 

Spectators should not be getting involved with crashed vehicles.

The bottom line

Motorsports events need to be planned and managed as well as any other public mass gathering event. They are inherently unsafe and need to be treated as such. 

While the participants take on a certain acceptance of risk, those seeking to spectate need to be reasonably safe and that's the responsibility of the organisers.