ScienceShot: Your Eardrums on Asphalt

Nic Redhead/Wikimedia Commons

ScienceShot: Your Eardrums on Asphalt

Formula One racing has applied science to just about every aspect of driving. From the precision required to control a car moving at 350 kilometers per hour to the efficiency of performing a pit stop in less than 3 seconds, they’ve measured and optimized everything. Well, except for one thing: the incredible noise generated by those cars. A study of the acoustical environment among spectators in June at the Formula One Grand Prix du Canada in Montreal is the first to make those measurements. The upshot: It depends on where you’re standing. The levels near the start of an S-curve where the cars slowed down were about half of the daily noise dosage deemed safe by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But one of the most exciting places to watch the race—the end of a hairpin turn where the cars roar into full acceleration—was the loudest of all. By the end of the hourlong event, spectators in that spot were exposed to 234% of OSHA’s limit and 8585% of the stricter limit recommended by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The results will be presented Friday in San Francisco, California, at the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. Except for die-hard fans who constantly attend races, the health risk is minimal. Of course, the question fans really want to know is which is louder, Formula One or NASCAR? The jury is still out.

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