Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 14, 2009
Photos By: Patrick Hill, The Manufacturer

Restraint Harnesses/Seats
We'd like to think everyone at this point is running at least a three-point factory-style seatbelt, but we know many of our readers are still sporting low-back seats and a single lapbelt. That might be fine for the cruise-night scene, but even if you want to take a parade lap at Road Atlanta, you better sport a three-point configuration at the least.

The one issue with a stock three-point belt is that it doesn't hold the driver in the seat (inertia reel simply kicks in on high g-force braking). If you're sliding around in your seat uncontrollably, you can't control the car. The steering wheel should be for steering inputs only, not something to hold on to for dear life when entering a corner at speed.

For performance track driving, a four-point restraint (or better) should be considered. The catch-22 here is that when using a four-point shoulder restraint, you have to use the proper seating along with it. A high-back seat with a locking seatback is a must for safety, as it protects the back and head in a collision, but having a seat with harness belt holes or a headrest on posts (integral headrest seats are a no-no) is required to prevent the shoulder harnesses from slipping off. Adding an anti-submarine strap (styles vary, but you can get a single- or double-strap variety-with double-strap being safer and more comfortable to wear) keeps the lapbelt from lifting and your body from sliding (submarining) under the lapbelt. For the serious track car, a multi-point restraint capable of head-and-neck support (HANS) should be considered too.

Whatever combination of belts and seats you use, the most critical thing is mounting the belts. The belt mounting has to be to at the proper angle and to a structural part of the vehicle for the belts to do their job properly. The same goes for aftermarket seats. They should be mounted to the original seat-mounting points in the car using the manufacturer's mounting brackets. Aftermarket performance seatbelts that are SFI-rated have date labels and a two-year lifespan, mostly due to their deterioration by the sun's ultraviolet rays. Once the belts expire, they need to be sent back to the manufacturer for re-webbing and recertification.

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While the driving suit, harness, and helmet should be your top priority when looking for safety gear, don't forget there are other safety items, some specific to the type of driving you will be doing and some specific to what you will be driving. For example, arm restraints are required in any open-cockpit car. Arm restraints attach to your forearms and your harness system, and prevent your arms from moving outside the confines of your cockpit.

A helmet support is another item that is optional but also very good insurance. In the event of a high g-force collision, the helmet on your head can impact your chest. The helmet support keeps the helmet in place and prevents that impact.

Driving gloves not only offer fire protection similar to the driving suit, but they also give you greater control with their high-grip surfaces. The typical driving glove is available in a leather palm and suede palm with a fire-retardant backing, usually Nomex. Suede is tackier and works well with any steering wheel surface (wood, plastic, or leather). Glove length is typically user-preference but you want overlap between your jacket sleeve and the glove. Lastly, sizing differs from company to company so be sure to measure your hand properly using company sizing guides.

Driving shoes, once again, are as much a safety item as they are a driving aid. A good driving shoe will protect your feet with an SFI rating complementary to your driving suit, giving you precious seconds of safety when needed. A well-designed shoe will fit your feet well, have ample arch support and padding, wear pads, a high-traction rubber sole, and most of all, be light and comfortable. Driving shoes come in various fitments, including ankle and high-top styles, to fit your driving needs and driving suit.

Lastly, don't forget the socks. Yes, fire-retardant socks finish off your feet protection. Standard socks, especially those made with synthetic materials, can easily melt right to your skin in a fire.

But Wait, There's More
This story covered the basics of driver safety, and we hope it has you thinking about your next driving event and how to increase your personal safety.

Don't forget-besides your own safety, there is the safety of your vehicle and those around you. Contemplate upgrades such as a proper restraint/harness bar or even a full multi-point rollcage. An onboard fire-suppression system is another thought. You should consider a minimum of a two-nozzle system-one for the engine compartment and one for the passenger compartment.

A separate fire extinguisher, reachable from the driver seat, is a simple purchase that could save you, your car, or someone around you. A properly secured battery, remote battery cut-off, and more are all things to consider. Ultimately, the sanctioning body's rule book section on safety should be your bare minimum of requirements. Good luck and be safe!

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