For the Fans: FIA Explains Its New Rally Safety Guidelines
The FIA wants to safeguard the future of rallying by imposing new standards that target mischievous fans. While it hardly seems fair to burden fans with safety under normal circumstances, certain rally stages in the WRC have a habit of attracting risk-taking behavior, where fans intentionally get as close to the course as possible as vehicles fly by. Truth be told, amateur rallying isn’t much better.
Even as safety continues to improve, danger is a major component of motorsport and, conversely, one of the primary reasons rallying remains so popular. There is a level of heightened unpredictability that many, including this author, find intoxicating. But the FIA still doesn’t want to see fans getting creamed by drivers, so it’s understandable to see it making an effort to further improve safety protocols — one of which involves using on-board cameras to identify thrill seekers putting themselves in harm’s way.
“Safety is the key for the sustainability of rallying in the future and one of the keys in safety is education — we see this around the world. These guidelines will help educate all to have the best procedures and the best habits in rallying,” FIA rally director, Yves Matton, told Autosport in a recent interview.
“The target we have to fix is zero [deaths and injuries], but we know how difficult that is. It is this question of education and knowledge to let the people understand how dangerous it can be if you are not doing the right things and this takes time — education always takes time.”
The FIA head’s of circuit and rally safety, Stuart Robertson, explained that new safety measures will first be enforced via WRC as a way to “demonstrate best practice and educate people in these vital messages of how to organize events as safely as possible for spectators.” From there, the new safety solutions will trickle down to more localized series and events.
“We have initiated a project that will help us detect the locations of spectators through image recognition, anonymously, using onboard cameras and various other tools,” said Robertson. “We’re employing new, high-level technology to identify where these people are located. We know they’re waiting until the safety crews have passed through before moving into [dangerous] positions.”
By identifying problem areas, the FIA thinks organizers can be swiftly alerted and dispatched to “take action.” However, what that entails is sort of nebulous. Rally stages are huge and sending someone to tell people to move away from a specific corner could take quite a bit of time — even under ideal circumstances. But the FIA believes making the effort is an important part of ensuring the sport’s future wellbeing. It doesn’t take more than a couple high-profile tragedies before people will question whether or not rallying should even be legal and the potential for such liabilities in WRC are omnipresent.
“Even at the sport’s top, top level we still see spectators in the wrong place. These people either have a lack of knowledge, maybe it’s their first event or they’re the farmer who has walked out of his field to see what’s going on. Or they’re the fanatical fans supporting their favorite driver and want to get as close as possible. Or, worse still, they’re the YouTube heroes who want to lie at the side of road and film the stones flying over their own heads as the car passes within inches of them. All to increase the number of hits they get on their video,” Robertson cringed. “There’s an unbelievable range of people we have to reach out to right around the world, but that’s what the Rally Safety Guidelines will do.”
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