Case of The Broken Rib: The Go Kart Accident

The father and son were having a great day at the Wisconsin Dells enjoying a sunny afternoon riding roller coasters waterslides and of all things: go karts. The father and son team were having a blast in their two-seater go kart. As the ride came to an end the go karts were lined up in the exit lanes they were hit with a sudden impact in the rear from a reckless driver. The event was more shocking than hurtful however brought to mind the injuries that can result when not wearing the proper equipment.

No one got hurt that day as well as they shouldn’t have, however if the correct safety equipment had not been used injury may have been a result.

During go kart racing the body can see a three-dimensional array of forces/acceleration loads. That may all sound like Greek to you so let’s explain it.

The different kinds of loading or forces occur in the following ways:

– Acceleration
– Cornering
– Braking
– Accident Impact
– Going Up and Over Hills

If you study a racing go kart race, and pay particularly close attention to the driver as he is being buffeted about during the race you get a rough idea about the forces that the body of the go karter is absorbing. In a corner for example the main trunk of the go kart driver is being thrown against the side of the seat. In an acceleration of event such as coming out of the corner at high speed, the back of the go kart driver is taking the acceleration forces as well as cornering forces.

Say suddenly the go karter encounters a stopped go kart and he has thrown forward and smashes into the steering column, then his chest and belly are obsorbing the impact of the sudden stop. Additionally what is not seen is that the head of the go kart driver is being thrown about like a bobble head.

The go kart driver is literally being thrown around like a rag doll in the go kart as it is accelerating around the track. The safety equipment developed is designed to combat these forces and prevent bruising injuries and crushing injuries.

If you notice for example on a racing go kart there are no seatbelts. We have this notion that seatbelts are the all-time prescription for safety. The real issue is that the drivers are protected.

Much like a motorcycle driver and he is not protected when a sudden change in acceleration such as an accident occurs. The seatbelts not there to hold them, and you don’t want them to have seatbelts on racing go kart’s otherwise you’ll have a worse problem.  So the questions is what do you do?

In a car for example the safety equipment is inside a cage or a box. So we literally need to think outside the box with a racing go kart. So outside the box would be that the go kart driver himself needs to have the safety equipment literally boxed on him.

So for example the acceleration forces for cornering acceleration are absorbed using a special device called a “rib tech” vest.  This particular vest was developed by a racing go karter who had encountered an accident and broke a rib. The accident in this instance was being hit from behind, and the sudden impact of the seat against his back broke a rib. He promptly developed a rib protector vest. Eventually this vest because it was so effective was mandated by the racing go kart Association.

Developments of this particular vest include chest protectors that protect the chest from being smashed during a head-on collision. The impact of the steering wheel/column is absorbed by this special vest, which is not made of some piece of leather but has a special plastic shield that spreads out the impact load so that is not concentrated at the point of contact, such as the steering wheel.

It is not uncommon, for example,  for racing go kart drivers to get saddle sores from all the bouncing around. We haven’t even mentioned helmet, Han;s devices, clothes and shoes which are all part of the racing go kart driver attire. For the average Joe who is making his own go kart it is important to understand the dangers and the impact loads, such as a sudden stop and the cornering forces that can actually break ribs.

On a full sized go kart it is important to have a roll cage and a seatbelts system so that the occupants are protected. Additionally helmets and protective gear is advised to protect the body and head from injury. Open face go carts are not recommended, but if used properly they can be quite safe. Seatbelts are recommended for accidents such as crashing into obstacles.

In our go kart building 101 course we talk about safety and how it is important that you have a special area for riding your go kart charted out. It is easy to overlook safety, but it all stops being fun when somebody gets hurt. Always keep safety as a priority, educate your go kart drivers, and discourage bad driving by removing privileges. Go carts are fun but go karts are dangerous.

The danger of go kart in reality comes into the accident situations and the very real forces that are encountered during normal driving. Understanding these forces and donning the proper attire, such as helmets rib protectors, and safety equipment such as seat belts and so forth will go a long way in making the day stay sunny and bright.

And of course, good driving sense, educated drivers and safe driving techniques need to be followed.  There are laws of physics and contrary to our exertions, they still come into play.  Taking the bend at 90 will even in the best of vehicles result in tragedy. 

Be safe, be smart.

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