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From digest.v6.n568 Tue Apr 22 16:23:18 1997 From: Satch Carlson <>
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 08:21:10 -0800
Subject: To Harness Or Not/satch

Hi, all:

I somehow missed out on an entire discussion, probably scrolling too fast past the Conforti Chronicles, but in regard to the issue of fouror five-point harness installations with or without a roll bar or a roll cage, I do have some definite opinions (jeez, what a surprise!). The purpose of a harness is to keep you in position. Except in formula cars, the crotch strap is less important as an anti-submarine device than for keeping the lap belt in its proper place. (Since the lap belt is the essential element of the set-up, it is important to properly adjust it BEFORE adjusting the shoulder belts; otherwise the shoulder belts pull the lap belt up out of its proper useful location.) I PERSONALLY believe 3" belts, especially over the shoulders, are overkill on the verge of OSHA excess. . . but then, I liked the Y-harnesses that the SCCA decided were unsuitable some years ago, too. . . .

The controversy running in these parts is whether a proper harness or the roll bar/cage comes first; apparently there is a school of thought that says IF you use a harness you SHOULD have a bar because what the harness will do is hold you upright, see, and when you roll over, the roof will come down and squish your head; so it would be safer if you DON'T have no bar to just use a diagonal OEM belt, presumably so you could throw yourself sideways and get your head out of the way of the crusher.

Without using technical terms like "horse pucky," let me declare myself on the other side of this particular fence.

Yes, a harness should keep you upright, if properly adjusted, and in driving position, which gives you the best chance of driving out of a roll-over situation in the first place. There may be anecdotal data on head-crush victims held firmly upright as they became terminally shorter, but in my admittedly limited experience---although I have been upside down more than most---it takes a very peculiar incident to truly flatten the top of a car, especially one designed to the safety standards I associate with BMW. Actually, unless you're hitting NASCAR speeds, most rollovers are fairly mild affairs.

But a serious potential for Bad Juju exists when you install a roll bar, especially if you go the distance for a full cage. Remember, dash boards and other interior surfaces are designed to have a certain amount of impact crush; a mild-steel or 4130 CM cage is far less forgiving. Most padding added to cages is basically cosmetic; the best insurance is a decent helmet---AND A PROPERLY ADJUSTED HARNESS TO KEEP YOU AWAY FROM THE STEEL. This is emphasized because unless you have a pure track car, you're going to be driving around with a lot of inflexible pipe near your noggin every day---and unlike Walter Matthau in "A New Leaf," you probably don't wear your helmet in everyday driving. Given the choice, I would opt for harness with no bar before I would install a bar with no harness.

I enjoy certain advantages over those who can slam-dunk a basketball; at 5'7" (on a warm day), I can cinch myself into a seat and stay well clear of the pipes in most sedans. In one of my old Pro rally cars, however, even when tied down tight in a bucket Recaro, I would bounce my Bell off the sidebar in a hard turn; if I were as tall as my friend Mikey, I might put a roll BAR in a street car, as long as I had it well aft of my head parts, but I would NOT build a full cage because of the fore-and-aft tube next to my noggin. In either case, I would be sure to belt myself securely out of range with the best harness I could find. And though I do have vague plans for coaxing whining pleading for ProtoFab to build me a bar in the Bad Dog, my first priority would be a decent harness to keep me in place while I'm trying madly to drive out of the situation I shouldn't have let myself drive into in the first place. The difference between being held firmly at the tiller in a good chair with tight straps, and in slipping and sliding around while you try to control a two-ton projectile is phenomenal; you find you can actually steer with that round thing in front of you instead of merely hanging on. . .

Your opinion, of course, may be entirely different. Good on ya, mate.


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