Professional auto racing today still sees its fair share of accidents, but it’s fair to say that race safety has come a long way since its origins at the turn of the 19th century. Despite the relatively low speed of vehicles at this time their unstable design – with a high carriage on top of a compact wheel base – and the general difficulty of handling meant that many drivers and bystanders were killed in these early events. The fact that these races often took place on public roads meant they were even more dangerous.
Paris to Madrid 1903
A defining event that highlighted the dangers of motor racing and brought a massive change in the way the sport was conducted was the 1903 Paris to Madrid race. Over 200 cars showed up to compete in this event, which would take place as a series of stages from France to Spain. It captured the excitement of the French people in particular, and was given the support of the government. However, it quickly became apparent that the conditions of the race were dangerous, and that whatever its initial appeal the race was going to have serious consequences.
8 Fatalities and 100 Injuries
One tragic report which is hard to verify talks about a solider named Dupuy being killed after running onto the track to save the life of a small child. What is certain is that Marcel Renault – a co-founder of the French car company – was killed after his vision was obscured by dust and he drove off the road. His death was a great shock to the public, but it came amongst a series of other exaggerated claims. Papers reported cars exploding, mechanics being thrown into the crowd by collisions, and all manner of driver deaths alongside Marcel’s. In fact eight people were killed in total, five drivers and three spectators, which was appalling enough on its own, but initial, inaccurate figures pointed to at least 100 people seriously injured.
Strict Measures Had to Be Introduced
Under the weight of this bad press the race was halted before the finish, and a series of new road rules brought in, including a 40 kph speed limit and an effective ban on racing on public roads. Racing had been taken off the highways for the time being, and from this dedicated track races became the main focus of the sport.
There Was Still a Long Way to Go
Of course this didn’t remove the dangers, as the 1955 Le Mans disaster, in which 80 spectators were killed, shows. It would be a long journey for motor sports to reach the level of consideration towards driver and public safety that we have today.
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Thanks to Lee Harding for this post. Lee writes this post o behalf of Adzuna. Visit Adzuna today to find all the latest deals on used Audi TT cars, along with a whole host of other used cars.