F1 Races Can Damage Your Eardrums
December 5, 2013

Formula 1 Races May Be Hazardous To Your Ears

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Auto racing fans, listen up! New research has revealed that being track-side during a grand prix could drastically exceed your daily recommended noise exposure, potentially damaging your eardrums.

The idea for the research came to acoustical engineer and University of Texas, Austin Craig Dolder, who attended a Formula 1 race in Montreal, Quebec that coincided with an Acoustical Society of America (ASA) conference held earlier this year.

“I've always wanted to go to one of those races,” Dolder explained in a statement. “So I made the arrangements, and then I thought to myself: This is going to be really loud. What do I need to wear to protect myself?”

He received a variety of different recommendations, ranging from foam earplugs and earmuffs to noise-cancelling headphones. Some hardcore fans even suggested forgoing protection altogether, decreeing that the loud noises were an essential part of the race-day experience.

Dolder was able to find scientific analyses of sound levels at other types of auto-racing events, including NASCAR races, but was unable to find any information pertaining specifically to the noise levels of F1 races.

That’s when he decided to conduct his own experiment, to make the information available so that people “could make a more informed decision about what to wear for hearing protection.” He will present his findings during the 166th annual ASA meeting, currently going on in San Francisco.

According to the Society, Dolder viewed the race standing with the general admission crowd, approximately 25 feet away from the race itself. He measured the sound levels at three different locations – essential given the road-course (non-oval) layout of most F1 tracks, since noise levels can vary greatly based on whether drivers are accelerating for a straightaway or slowing for a hairpin curve.

“After gathering his data, Dolder calculated the noise dosage at the three locations and compared it to dosage standards used in the US,” the ASA said, adding that the loudest location “was at the end of a hairpin turn just before a straightaway. Dolder calculated that without hearing protection, an audience member would get 234 percent of his daily allowed noise dosage going by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.”

However, based on the stricter standards established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), that percentage soared to an incredible 8,585 percent – though Dolder noted that even that amount does not indicate the potential for permanent damage resulting from a single race. The quietest location was at the start of an S-curve, where an attendee would receive just 53 percent of a daily noise dosage by OSHA standards.

Ultimately, as long as a spectator is equipped with adequate protection, Dolan said that his or her exact location likely does not matter – and he said that protecting your hearing is unlikely to diminish your enjoyment of the race. “You will still feel [those loud noises] in your body, but it's not worth the risk of exposing yourself to that noise unprotected,” he said.