Driver safety is something that is often overlooked with HPDE's. As time trial events become more common and people go faster, increasing the safety of their car is a natural progression. While this is great in theory. There are some common changes that can create a more hazardous environment. Below are some things commonly done incorrectly.
1. Fixed position bucket seat & harness without roll over protection.
While the idea of a bucket seat and harness sound safer. without a roll bar or cage, they can be far more dangerous than people think.
A bucket seat is designed to hold you tight, and keep you upright. this gives you better feeling and more stability than a OEM style seat. However, in the event of an accident they will hold you upright in the seat and leaving much less room between your head and the roof. If the car were to roll or land on it's roof. the top of the car could very quickly cave in on top of you and increasing the risk of serious or fatal injury.
An OEM seat would allow your body to move (still very dangerous) but the idea is that it would not trap you in the upright position.
2. Harness Bars
While the intentions of a harness bar are good. A harness without rollover protection is a very bad idea. This ties into the topic mentioned above, and is dangerous for the same reasons. Harness bars are often made from a lower quality material that bends. This allows the harness to move even more than the stand amount of "Belt Stretch" seen in an accident.
3. 4 point Harness
A 4-point harness should never be used, For the extra money you will spend on something with "Anti-Submarining" you could purchase an off the shelf 5 or 6 point harness.
Why this is important.
When involved in an accident, your body is put under extreme loads. Your harness will stretch 6-10 inches during impact. In an accident with head on contact. The amount of force can easily force you to slip under the belt and right up under the steering column. There have been multiple accident where this very thing happened and they don't usually end up with the driver walking away. More and more event organizers are no longer allowing 4 point harnesses to be used.
4. Suits, gloves and shoes
Investing in SFI/FIA certified gear isn't cheap. But for something that could potentially save your life in a fire, most would agree that it is worth every penny. Things like Balaclava (head sock) and Nomex under layers can be worn under normal clothes to add a layer of fire protection. If you invest in a fire suit. Get the proper Nomex under layers.
5. Head and neck restraints.
The cost neck restraints (Hans Device, NecksGen etc.) has fallen tremendously over the recent years. If you have a bucket seat, harness and roll bar, a neck restraint should be used. Testing has proven that low speed impacts can be lethal. These restraints limit the necks movement in an accident and have been proven to save lives.
5. Fire extinguishers / Fire suppression systems.
With how quickly things can go wrong, having something to combat a fire is always good practice. We cant always assume that something will happen next to a flag station. If a fire starts, you obviously have to stop as fast as possible. this means that if you aren't prepared. you will have to wait for someone else to get to you. all the while your car is burning. At the very least a handheld extinguisher will help to minimize the damage.
If you are on track and experience an engine fire. Stay calm and get the car off the track as fast as possible. If you are at a track with a lot of dirt, hitting the dirt with a little momentum will force the dirt up and help to suffocate the fire. shut the car off and get out! Also remember to NOT open the hood if possible. this allows oxygen in and helps the fire grow.
This is where having the proper equipment makes all the difference. the interior of your car has a wide range of materials that can make a fire escalate quickly. Carpet, seats, wiring etc. Even if these items aren't engulfed in flames, they will smoke and burn once hot enough. This creates smoke and reduces visibility and your ability to breath very quickly. a hand held extinguisher should be mounted so you can reach it while strapped in your seat.
If using a fire system. The pull cable or button should mounted so you can pull it while strapped in.
Regardless of what steps you take to make your car safer, it is important to think of how each thing might effect the next. Taking the proper steps to make your car safer, will give you more confidence to push your limits as a driver. Knowing you're safe is much different than assuming you're safe.