The halo-type head protection system mandated for Formula One racing may affect the drivers’ head position and motion, potentially compromising steering accuracy, according to a new simulation led by Curtin University researchers. The case study, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, examined the use of the halo frontal cockpit protection system – a titanium arc fitted to the open cockpit of a racing car – in a 70-year-old amateur racing driver with more than 10 years’ driving experience at the national level. The halo system was mandated by the motor sports’ governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile for the 2018 Formula One season, following the death of French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi after a crash during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. In the study, muscle movement, fatigue and steering were measured using special sensors, electrodes (electromyography), and GPS trackers with and without the halo device during two warm-up laps and 10 “flying” laps. Analysis indicated that the muscle workload differed when the halo was fitted to the car, suggesting that the position of the driver’s head was affected. The authors acknowledge that the data are not complete; they suggest that the altered position might mean that the driver is less able to stabilise his head and neck, possibly leading to greater risk of neck injury and whiplash. Muscle fatigue was also uneven, suggesting that movement of the driver’s head was also affected when the halo was fitted to the cockpit, which may similarly boost the risk of neck injury. Lead author Dr Simon Rosalie said, “This case study suggests the halo system affects the head position and movement for drivers, which may [have an impact on] their navigation and the accuracy of steering.” He said the research indicated there may be a need for training and ergonomic adjustment to compensate for its effect on head position and movement.
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