For thrill-seekers, go-karting is the perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon. Even I dabbled in the hobby in my younger years and found it to be a great time. However, its high-speed nature and numerous moving parts can pose some risks. So, it seems worth asking: just how safe is go-karting?
There are tons of reasons to visit your local go-kart track. First and foremost, it’s fun. A well-designed course can challenge your dexterity and coordination, as well as your tactical prowess. It can also be a family-friendly and far-less-dangerous alternative to taking your car to a legitimate race track.
Many major go-karting companies also have a full list of safety protocols in place to make sure fun doesn’t come at the expense of safety. K1 Speed, for instance, performs height-checks for junior racers and makes sure their feet can fully depress both pedals before they’re allowed to leave the starting line. They also require Department of Transportation-approved full-face helmets — which you can rent for free — make use of all-electric carts to prevent burns and covers the kart’s rear axel to eliminate the risk of long hair getting tangled up while you’re driving.
Depending on your age and where you race, go-karting can be somewhat dangerous. According to USA Today, more than 11,000 people checked into the emergency room due to go-kart related injuries in 2014. The majority of the risk comes from the potential for crashes, spinouts, and flips, all of which can result in whiplash or broken bones.
The best way to avoid these dangers is to go to a track that puts safety first by outfitting its karts with roll bars or roll cages, covered rear axles, and DOT-approved seat belts. If your local course doesn’t require helmets, seriously consider bringing your own. Whatever awkwardness or judgment you think that might incur is certainly better than the possibility of head trauma.
As I said before, I genuinely enjoy go-karting, despite the potential for injury. Even so, it wasn’t always a rosy experience. When I was around 12, a teenager a few years older than me — who I will generously describe as rude — seemingly made it his mission to bash into me as many times as possible during one race.
The final result was a minor case of whiplash, a slightly dislocated vertebrae that required a chiropractic appointment to correct, and an eternal sense of ill will directed towards a stranger I’ll (hopefully) never meet again. All-in-all, it didn’t amount to anything more than a fleeting inconvenience, which places me firmly in the luckiest percentile of people injured while racing.
Ultimately, whether you want to take your family go-karting is up to your discretion. While there are always risks associated with the activity, visiting a facility that places safety at the forefront of its operation is the best way to have some high-octane fun without endangering yourself or your loved ones.