Novel Airbag Technology to Make MotoGP Safer

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MotoGP, and motorcycle racing in general, is perceived as a dangerous sport, and with good reason. Racers go at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, and crashes can be spectacular, usually resulting in the separation of the rider from the motorcycle. This often results in broken bones—as with Valentino Rossi, the reigning MotoGP champion, who recently broke his leg when practicing for this year’s grand prix in his home country of Italy.

Rossi should feel lucky. He’s out for this year at least, but he will be back, hopefully in top form. However, fans and analysts of the young sport worry that crashed riders may not be so lucky in the future. Tracks, helmets, and riding gear have made things much safer, but there’s still plenty of room for nightmare crashes like the one that happened to Rossi.

Foreseeing a demand for even greater safety, gear manufacturers Dainese and Alpinestars have been developing inflatable suits that operate in a similar manner to the airbags that have saved the lives of countless racecar drivers in catastrophic crashes, not to mention the thousands, if not millions, of lives saved by automotive airbags in general.

This development has led many to wonder, why has it taken so long for motorcycle airbags to be developed?

The answer is simple. Since most motorcycle crashes end up with the rider off of the vehicle, there’s no sense in using airbags that are mounted in the dash of the motorcycle. In most scenarios, the driver won’t even be in the seat to benefit from the cushion provided by the airbag.

That’s why these developers are turning to a new type of airbag—one that is worn in a specially designed pack on the back and senses when the rider has been flung from the vehicle. At this moment, the airbags inflate immediately, protecting against injuries to the upper body, including the shoulders and neck.

When these technologies are ready to be put to use, it could revolutionize MotoGP safety, and models for general motorcycle riders could be soon to follow. Some worry that these airbags could potentially give riders a feeling of invincibility, inspiring them to ride faster and perform ever more dangerous stunts, but there’s really no merit to these fears. Since the airbags would only protect the torso, riders would still be vulnerable to leg injuries such as the one suffered by Rossi.

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