Safety of motorsport events leaves much to be desired – investigation of accidents that led to the deaths of two people in Seinäjoki on 15 June and in Pori on 22 June 2018 is complete

Published 31.1.2019

The Safety Investigation Authority, Finland, has completed its investigation of the accidents during motorsport events in June 2018. An audience member died at the Pohjanmaa Rally in Seinäjoki on 15 June 2018. A week later, on 22 June 2018 in Pori, an official died during a folk racing event. The Safety Investigation Authority, Finland, encourages the motorsport sector and the supervisory authorities to improve the safety of the sport.

In the 2010s, two officials and one audience member have been killed during motorsport events. Additionally, two officials and one audience member were seriously injured. There are no statistics, so there may be other cases. Repeated accidental deaths are not usually caused to outsiders in other kinds of hobbies or audience events.

- There are now a plethora of means available for improving the safety of motorsport races and events. A key measure is the rapid implementation of the safety recommendations derived from our accident investigation in order to improve the safety of a sport drawing large numbers of hobbyists and audience. We will also monitor the implementation of the recommendations in accordance with our normal operating model, says Veli-Pekka Nurmi, Executive Director of the Safety Investigation Authority, Finland.

Five safety recommendations for improving the safety of motorsport events

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes present the need for the simplification and streamlining of the requirements of the authorities to the ministries and agencies responsible for the regulation of motorsport events. Tukes must also plan what kind of co-operation is required for the creation of an event database that guides event organisers in entering the basic and safety planning details of the races, allowing the information to be distributed to the different authorities. The database would streamline the organising of events and would better highlight safety. The safety requirements of motorsport events, similarly to those of other hazardous audience events, are complex. The planning obligations are fulfilled only to a degree. The safety planning documents of both the Seinäjoki and Pori motorsport races did not fulfil the requirements of, for example, the Consumer Safety Act. The rescue plans were also scant and the risk assessments deficient. The permit decisions and conditions of the police had not been perused in Seinäjoki, while in Pori, the organiser had not sent the rescue plan to the Satakunta Rescue Services for evaluation. The plans failed to properly steer the organising of the races towards the identification of obvious risks and the prevention of their realisation.

Secondly, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the national governing body of motorsports, AKK-Motorsport ry, update the rules and templates for the different motorsport events so that the motorsport events are planned in a manner that identifies and reduces the risks of that precise event, and in a manner that the planning and the documents meet the requirements of the relevant regulations. The planning must be carried out well in advance of the event.

Organising a safe motorsport race is demanding and, to a certain degree, complex. Several different acts lay down requirements concerning the same matters, and they are supervised by several authorities. Safety planning is governed by the provisions of the Public Order Act, Rescue Act and the Consumer Safety Act. The basic idea of the requirements on safety planning is a good one: one must determine the risks, prevent their realisation and prepare for their realisation. Well-prepared documents can also be used in directing the event. At the investigated Seinäjoki and Pori motorsport events, the planning was deficient.

Thirdly, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that AKK-Motorsport ry issue instructions to the organisers of rallycross events in such a manner that the audience is directed to marked viewing areas and that there are a sufficient number of such viewing areas in locations interesting to the audience. Clear, multichannel communications must be used to guide the audience members to the marked areas and express that viewing the race elsewhere is dangerous. The audience must be clearly advised of the dangers related to rallycross. The final lead car must check the audience locations.

In high-speed rallycross races, a car may change its direction in many ways should it drive off the road, ending up far from the road. It is impossible to be sure of the safety of random viewing locations, and the consideration cannot be left to the audience members. At the same time, the safe placement of the media and photographers must be taken into consideration. The principles of establishing viewing areas and the terms used of them must be harmonised with the permitting authorities. In the Seinäjoki rallycross accident, there was some confusion about the meanings of dangerous and prohibited viewing areas. Additionally, motorsport rules do not sufficiently emphasise ensuring the safety of the audience and the officials – the rules focus on protecting the drivers. Speeches emphasise the personal responsibility of the audience and the officials, although it cannot be taken away from the event organiser. During the special stages of the Pohjanmaa Rally in Seinäjoki, the audience could choose their viewing locations on their own nearly without restrictions. Prohibited, dangerous or allowed viewing areas had not been marked along the route.

Improvements to the safety of folk racing officials and attention on the systematic collection of accident data

The Safety Investigation Authority also recommends that AKK-Motorsport ry prepare a description for the folk racing rules of what is a safe marshal post and how it should be located and inspected. Requirements on the qualifications, orientation, equipment and minimum age of the officials are also required. In the Pori accident, the marshal post was unprotected. The officials at the marshal post were in the wrong location with inadequate equipment.

- It is possible to make a marshal post quite safe. The most important points are a sensible location, clear access routes, defined staying and flagging areas, suitable tyre and earth barriers and railings. The most essential equipment are high visibility and identification vests, and safety shoes that allow good mobility, investigator-in-charge Kai Valonen lists as some measures that would improve safety.

In turn, requirements on qualifications and orientation must be used to ensure that the officials know the equipment requirements, are aware of the dangers inherent in their duties, know how to position themselves correctly, are familiar with flagging, and have considered their actions in the presence of danger. When the minimum age of an official is determined, it must be considered at what age will someone understand the risks and is able to assume responsibility of their own presence at the track monitoring point. During the investigation, it was found that in some races, very young, minor persons had performed the duties of a track marshal.

Additionally, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the national motorsports governing body AKK-Motorsport ry prepare a procedure for collecting and publishing accident data and numbers, and define objectives and measures for reducing the number of accidents. Motorsport events differ from other audience events by the occasional accident leading to the serious injury or even death of an audience member or an official. The motorsports governing body has a safety committee that investigates accidents that have occurred. However, there are no comprehensive statistics or aggregations of the accidents. The data is necessary for the improvement of safety and the monitoring of the development.

More information: Veli-Pekka Nurmi, Executive Director, tel. +358 295 150701, Kai Valonen, investigator-in-charge, tel. +358 295 150707.