High Speeds, Higher Decibels

Posted on by Chucri A. Kardous, MS, PE, and Thais Morata, PhD

stock cars all in a rowStock car racing is loud. Many fans and drivers like it that way. “Noise is part of NASCAR,” we are often told. We get it. In fact, efforts to reduce the noise in the 1970s by installing mufflers were quickly abandoned because the quiet cars were unpopular with racing teams and spectators alike. The problem is that repeated exposure to noise comes with consequences—permanent and irreversible consequences like hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). For many years, those in the industry seemed to accept hearing problems as “part of the job.” As drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, and Richard Petty come forward about their hearing loss (see Tania Ganguli’s “Hearing loss an inevitable part of racecar driving” in the Orlando Sentinel, 2/15/2009), we hope others in the industry will begin to take the issue more seriously.

Stock car racing is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the United States with over 75 million television viewers and more than 8 million spectators attending over 90 racing events each year. Thunderous noise is a given at stock car races whether at a local dirt track or on the national stage such as NASCAR races, and to a certain extent, the noise is part of the sport’s appeal. Despite the seemingly obvious high-noise levels, no scientific measurement of noise levels had been documented. Earlier this year NIOSH scientists published the results of research on noise exposures at stock car events.1 Research conducted at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, and the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, revealed that noise levels at these tracks often exceed those found in some of the loudest industrial settings.

On Friday and Saturday, August 20 and 21, 2010, NASCAR fans can look forward to the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol has developed a reputation among fans as the noisiest track on the NASCAR circuit. This is mainly due to its bowl-shaped layout (similar to a football stadium), small track size, and metal-constructed stands, which reverberate and amplify the noise generated by the stock cars. NIOSH research confirmed that noise levels at the Bristol Motor Speedway were the highest among the three tracks studied.

Overall, area noise-level measurements taken during race preparation, practice, qualification, and competition exceeded the NIOSH recommended exposure limit (REL) of 85 decibels, A-weighted (dBA) and the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 dBA. The highest area noise levels were found in the “pit” area. Peak sound pressure levels in the “pit” area at all three race tracks reached and exceeded 130 dB—often recognized as the human hearing threshold for pain.

Personal dosimetry measurements were conducted on drivers, team members, and spectators. The spectator measurements included many workers in the stands such as vendors and security personnel, in addition to fans. The term “spectators” is used throughout to refer to this entire group and to distinguish those working in the stands from those working on or near the track. At Bristol, findings showed time-weighted averages (TWA) that ranged from 96 dBA for spectators in the stands during the race to 114 dBA for a driver inside a car during practice. Peak sound pressure levels exceeded the maximum allowable limit of 140 dB during race competitions. Personal exposure measurements exceeded the NIOSH recommended exposure limit of 85 dBA as an 8-hr TWA in less than a minute for one driver during practice, within several minutes for team members, and in less than one hour for spectators during the race. Another way to look at this is that a driver’s noise dose was 50-900 times higher than the allowable occupational daily noise dose. Race team members receive 12 to 21 hours of intensive noise exposure every week up to 40 consecutive weeks and more during the off-season. Spectators are exposed to a noise dose that is two to ten times higher than a person working a 40-hour week at the maximum allowable limit of 85 dBA. Additionally, race tracks employ workers who are exposed to excessive noise in different events. These workers should consider using hearing protection.

We know there are dangerous noise levels at stock car race tracks and we know that prolonged and repeated exposure to excessive noise levels can lead to tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss—a permanent, irreversible condition caused by damage to the sensory cells within the ear. So what do we do?

NIOSH and others in the health and safety community recommend removing or “engineering out” the noise as a first line of defense. If mufflers are not used to reduce noise from race cars to a TWA below 85 dBA, then hearing protection must be used. Most racing associations do not require drivers and crew to wear hearing protection devices during practice or race activities, nor do they provide guidelines about the selection or appropriate communication headsets that can provide adequate protection. In certain working environments with excessive noise levels, double hearing protection (earplugs and earmuffs) may be warranted. Newer technologies employing noise cancellation and level-dependent circuitry that provide better attenuation of ambient noise and improve speech intelligibility are now available commercially. Crewmembers should be afforded the same hearing protection currently provided to drivers—that of custom-molded earplugs with built-in speakers. Workers at race tracks and spectators should also be made aware of the noise problem through education and informational campaigns. Most spectators assume that a few hours of recreational noise exposures are harmless, but noise exposures do add up and data from our research show otherwise. When appropriately selected, hearing protection can become a competitive performance advantage—improving communication and preventing long-term noise-induced hearing loss.

Mr. Kardous is a research engineer in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Dr. Morata is a research audiologist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.


1. “Occupational and recreational noise exposures at stock car racing circuits: An exploratory survey of three professional race tracks.” Noise Control Eng. J. 58 (1), Jan-Feb 2010.

Posted on by Chucri A. Kardous, MS, PE, and Thais Morata, PhD

67 comments on “High Speeds, Higher Decibels”

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    I attend many NASCAR races… yes it is loud and I would say 90 percent of the spectators have ear plugs and/or headphones. Ear plugs are available from many venders at all the tracks. Workers for the teams and officials all wear ear protection.Also most people do not want to sit near the track they want to sit up high to get a full view. Why waste money to research what is obvious. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it is loud at nascar races and it could cause hearing loss. Thats why smart fans wear ear plugs.

    Thank you for your comment. Most of our research has focused on the occupational exposures of those who work in racing and at racing events. Hearing loss and tinnitus have been reported by many drivers and crew members, though most recognize that it’s an occupational hazard and part of the being involved in this sport. Hearing loss is irreversible and it can affect quality of life in the long term, but most importantly, it is preventable. Our research aims to educate and inform those who work in the industry about the extent of the problem and provide possible solutions. It is not completely accurate to state that “workers for the team and officials wear hearing protection” because they don’t – they wear communication earphones and headsets. It is important to note that the effectiveness of those communication systems, when compared to actual earplugs or earmuffs, is not optimal. In addition, everyone who wears a headset or in-the-ear communication plugs must adjust the volumes above the ambient noise levels, and we measured those levels to be above 110 decibels.

    Spectators were not the main focus of this study, though from our observations at the various race tracks, hearing protection was used by around 30-40% of spectators (depending on the venue and their proximity to the track). Again, many spectators opted to wear earphones or headphones connected to their radios which defeat much of the protection they would have otherwise received.

    Everyone knows it is loud at NASCAR races, we stated that clearly, but not everyone is aware of how easily the noise can damage hearing or cause tinnitus and how they can go about protecting their hearing so they don’t have to resort to hearing aids or medical treatments later in life. We wholeheartedly agree with your last statement, “smart fans wear ear plugs”

    Did it ever occur to people that are making all these studies that the people involved in these activities were doing so voluntarily for the enjoyment and profitablity that out weighted the risks. I guess being a product of being born in the forties when we road bicycles without helmets drove cars without seat belts and generally took everyday as a new adventure just doesn’t work in the 21st century.

    It is true that mostly everyone who is involved in stock car racing chose to do so because of their passion and love of racing; however, we don’t just set out to make such studies. NIOSH was asked by the management of a professional racing team (though a Health Hazard Evaluation request to examine and assess the occupational hazards of their employees, including the drivers, crew, mechanics, and shop workers. The team management was concerned about hearing loss and other occupational hazards to their team members. Other than providing the team with safety and health recommendations, our engineers were able to provide the team with specific information regarding speech intelligibility and the performance of their communication systems that they depend on for the safety of their drivers and crew.

    Who pay for this study ???? Stay out of it. If I want to hear and still use ear plug then I am fine. I big fan of NASCAR and love NHRA.

    NIOSH was asked by a racing team to provide a health hazard evaluation assessment of their occupational exposures; the main focus of this study was the drivers and team members, including mechanics and shop workers. Any employee, employer, or worker representative can request a health hazard evaluation. NIOSH responds to each request with information on how to address the issues of concern. If, in the case of the racing team request, research has not been conducted in the area, NIOSH can conduct an investigation to help eliminate or protect against potential hazards.

    Can you recommend a good sound level meter for under $100? There are many different models and costs range from $29.00 to over $500.00. If there are good low cost models available, then the average person can purchase one to use to know when hearing protection is warranted.

    Good study, though obvious results. Hopefully NASCAR will help develop better hearing protection, like they have developed better safety equipment for other applications.

    Do you folks have nothing better to do? And let me even begin to guess what this “research” cost tax payers.

    This is another example of the government sticking it’s big fat nose where it don’t belong. It saddens me when I read a story that say’s federal investigation and I think, why? Why do we need an investigation. I want to be deaf from race cars. it’s my body, “do I have a right to choose” what I do with my body? Or is that only for Liberal females?

    Our country has just gone to pot when “educated” people waste their time on such junk. Quit wasting our money!

    We appreciate your concern. NIOSH was asked to conduct the research by the management of a professional racing team (see responses to comments 3 and 4). Risk of noise-induced hearing loss at work (where exposure to a source of noise may be a part of the job and not a personal option) is a significant concern among occupational health professionals. Among other consequences, disability from occupational hearing loss costs the U.S. economy more than $242 million per year. This is an estimate as comprehensive cost data are not available, but according to Veterans Affairs (VA), noise-induced hearing injury disability compensation rates are currently over $1 billion per year. While the NIOSH research addressed the issue of work-related risk, the information may have additional interest for fans who may wish to take precautions as a matter of personal choice. For an individual, an investment in earplugs of about $1 to prevent hearing impairment can compare with the cost of a hearing aid—around $3,000 for the device, with an additional cost of more than $300 per year in batteries—after impairment occurs.

    Poorly done study. Why stand at the fence to measure decibles when the fans are 15 feet away in the stands? All crew, officials etc in the pits wear ear gear. How did you measure the decibles reaching their ears? These drivers have detailed conversations while you assert they should be writhing in pain. Before you cry out for NASCAR to listen to you, open your eyes and see they have already addressed the issue in the pits and cars.

    You state that spectators are hit with 96 dba, 10 dba over the recommended 85 dba, but you say spectators exceed the 8 hr TWA in less than 1 hour. How is that? Are they all standing at the fence?

    Thank you for your comment, Ron. We’d be very happy to send you a copy of our journal article to read the details of how we conducted our assessment.

    We measured noise levels at different sections in the stands, however, most of our focus in the stands was targeted to those who would be occupationally exposed such as security and personnel hired by the tracks.

    We reported that all drivers, crew, and officials wear communication gears but the amount of protection those headsets provide is considerably lower than a typical hearing protector device and having to crank up the volume to overcome the ambient noise environment defeats most of the protection the wearers may otherwise receive.

    Rock concerts are the worst–I have been wearing ear plugs to music events since my teen years, and at 50+ still have good hearing. Even movie theaters are too loud for me, even uncomfortable.

    Sadly, I think teens and young adults think it looks “uncool” to wear earplugs at these events, even while sitting in the front rows next to speakers.

    Noise level guidelines are pointless if devices to monitor the decible output are not available to the public.

    Has anyone tested the decibels at movies lately? Many of the movie theaters must have noise levels above the 85 decibel limit because my ears go into pain frequently for various movies. Does anyone monitor noise levels for movie theaters or for how much louder some commercials are (over the TV program level)? With all this noise around us, sounds like the hearing aid industry will do well…

    NIOSH has not conducted research in this area because there’s very little occupational exposure at movie theaters. We are not aware of any regulations governing how loud sound can be in public places such as movie theaters. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association mentions this issue on their website (see the gray box under “Protect Yourself from Noise”).

    It’s interesting to me to see how many people are responding negatively. Warning you about loud sound levels is not about taking away your choice; it’s about making sure you are in a position to make an informed choice. Sure, everyone knows NASCAR is loud…but how many people realize it is permanently damaging after very short exposures? That a minute in the worst noise is as bad as a week in a noisy job (where we’d still recommend hearing protection)?

    The excessive noise is largely provided on demand; there are ways of reducing it, but because everyone knows NASCAR should be loud, making racing quieter is somehow unacceptable. Perhaps people would reconsider if they understood that the trade off for that exciting noise is an early need for hearing aids, chronic ringing in the ears, a loss of the ability to discriminate speech, especially in background noise, increased social isolation, depression, increased risk of heart disease, reduced earning potential, and social stigma.

    The permanent loss of hearing is such an emotionally painful thing to experience that audiologists are trained in grief counseling. We’re also trained to keep expectations of our patients realistic when it comes to hearing aids, because while they can do fantastic things, sound still has to travel through a badly damaged ear. We can never repair that damage, or replace the delicate sensory cells. When we tell patients that their hearing is permanently gone, and we can’t fix the ringing, sometimes we really need those grief counseling skills.

    I spent ten years reviewing hearing tests professionally in the Midwest, and I saw a regular pattern of increased hearing loss for racing fans. The most tragic case was in a 19 year old who regularly attended, drove stock cars, worked on cars, etc. He had the hearing loss of a 65 year old foundry worker who had never worn hearing protection. For those of you in the profession, moderate/ severe at 1-6 kHz with distinct notching/ bulging. He had no history of hearing loss in childhood, and he was just starting his first job, so we know it didn’t happen there. He was 19, and he needed hearing aids. He will need hearing aids for the rest of his life. He didn’t know the noise would do that sort of damage, and by the time he knew, it was too late.

    In this country, there is precious little education on how loud is too loud. You aren’t always going to be warned that the sound you’re enjoying, or just barely tolerating, is destroying you hearing. At sound levels above about 105 dB A, even hearing protection may not be adequate to keep your ears safe (although it will still help!) We assume that if we’re not warned, things must be safe, but in fact there are just no legal requirements for warnings, outside of noisy workplaces.

    Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss, and it is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE hearing loss. If you feel the need to have things loud, stop and ask yourself if it’s worth needing hearing aids at a younger age, and hearing ringing so loud you can’t sleep. Don’t bash NIOSH for telling you about these risks…thank them for warning you before you have to live with them. Permanantly.

    Someone actually needed a study to figure this out… I protect my hearing at these events even though it was more dangerous to walk by my kids stereo when they were teens. Vendors sell hearing protection at these events and many of us NASCAR lovers have hearing protectors. How about a study on when to drink the beer so you don’t miss any of the main events while in the bathroom. Now that would be a useful study!

    Chuck and Thais
    Thank you so much for taking the time to conduct this study. Not really sure why you are getting criticism here. . . .but this is an open forum. Very informative and highlights how such an enjoyable event in our day to day life can become such a preventable injury.

    One of your readers said, “a minute in the worst noise is as bad as a week in a noisy job”. Isn’t that the truth! And once hearing loss happens, generally never comes back!

    I’ve seen parents bring kids to events and after paying good money for their seats had to leave because it was too noisy and they were ill prepared for the noise.

    I think you are advocating protection while at these events. You are not saying to the readers not to go. . . on the contrary, the vibrations of the cars and the thrills of the race are fantastic! Sure, to be honest, you pay for the noise too. . . I think what you are saying is to go to these events (racing & concerts) and enjoy. . . but while there, protect your hearing (spectators, vendors, drivers, crew alike).

    For a second set aside the costs that society has to pay for noise induced hearing loss (which are not small). . . . thanks for taking the time to help us maintain a good quality of life because unfortunately, hearing loss equals an inferior quality of life.

    Think of this. . . if you don’t like to properly wear earplugs for an hour or 2 while at a noisy event. . . how would you like to wear a hearing aid for the rest of your life?

    For one, I really enjoyed your study!

    Interesting work. This fall I learned of a different take on noise at recreational events. Penn State acousticians evaluated the levels at the football stadium and modeled where would the best placement of the student section(s) be. The purpose was to produce sound to throw off the opposing team.

    Its good to hear that you are trying to find remedies for high decibel sound in NASCAR. Hope your project goes well and benefits NASCAR lovers.

    I would appreciate NIOSH comments as to whether these noise levels exceed the capabilities of HPD’s to reduce in the ear exposures below 85 dBA. That piece of information might influence mitigation strategies. Also, some commentary on the use of noise cancellation technology would be helpful, I’d be surprised if such were not in use for radio communication with drivers.

    NIOSH has not examined the effectiveness of the different types of hearing protection/communication systems worn by stock car racing personnel. The protection afforded by those systems is influenced by the volume levels set by the users and the frequency of such communication, as well as how well those systems are fitted and used. Hearing protection devices such as earplugs, earmuffs, or any combination of devices and systems will need to provide between 10-30 dBA of protection to bring levels in the ear under 85 dBA (lower end for spectator and stand workers and the higher range to crew and drivers). In general, most hearing protection devices on the market today should be more than capable to provide adequate protection against these levels, if used and fitted properly.

    We are not aware of any noise cancellation technology being employed for radio communication with drivers. Based on anecdotal discussions with teams and drivers, experiments with noise cancellation systems have not proven very successful or desirable, mostly because drivers (and their crew) need to be attuned to any small changes in car and engine performance that the noise cancellation system may potentially mask. However, as with any new hearing protector, the ability to hear changes in the equipment will be affected by how accustomed the user is to listening through the device.

    Hearing protection currently being developed for use with high noise exposures around airplanes include both active noise cancellation and communication systems and can provide as much of 40-50 dB of protection. Please note that in August 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed modifications to the noise reduction rating that will include active noise reduction (noise cancelling) hearing protection devices.

    I for one can attest to this blog, I have been in the music promotion business since I was 13, never once did I think i would be at a loss for hearing but now at 33 its slowly getting worse. I am careful now to go to large concerts etc, because of it. People really need to be cautious now a days.

    Thanks for the great info.

    Unfortunately, your story is very common. Stay tuned for the third installment in our series on occupational noise exposures in sports and entertainment where we will address the risks of hearing loss and tinnitus in the music industry.

    I totally agree with Laura Kauth and am grateful for Marcia Becker’s thoughts about the noise level at movie theatres – never would have realised that fact. With the TV getting bigger, and sound system more sophisticated, we are at risk of damaging our senses.

    Is the race noise too high for those that are pregnant? In 2003 I attended the Indy 500 to find out. See article at [http://www.ishn.com/Articles/Column/0cc7647b110c7010VgnVCM100000f932a8c0____]

    More than half of all workers in America today are women. About 80% of all women will become pregnant sometime during their working lifetime. Almost all newborns in the U.S. receive a hearing test before they leave the birthing hospital. NIOSH should take the opportunity to help protect the next generation of future workers, too.

    Thanks for the comment, Dan. While it may be outside the scope of our occupationally-focused study, exposure of pregnant women to high noise levels is a real issue and we thank you for bringing it to the attention of our audience. It may become more of an issue, from an occupational standpoint, as women become more involved in the sport—several are choosing to become drivers where they may be exposed to over the 115 dB limit prescribed by the American Industrial Conference of Governmental Hygienists (ACGIH). We also noticed many children attending races with their families, some as young as several months old, and some were not even fitted with any hearing protection, or fitted with adult earplugs that were barely hanging from their ears.

    In fact, one of the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Environmental Health was for NIOSH to examine “further research on noise exposure during pregnancy.” We are hoping that this study and these blog entries bring more awareness to everyone involved in the sport or any noisy activities so we can see improved safety and health practices in the near future.

    Thank you for doing this study. I think that knowledge enables people to make better decisions. Pacific Raceways (formerly SIR) in WA state is trying to expand and their plans show a NASCAR track. King County has allowed a lot of residential development in this area. For those of us who pre-date the Raceway, we won a lawsuit that created a conditional use permit with “quiet days,” etc… Now Pacific Raceways is flagrantly violating its permit, the County is not enforcing it, and we are being subjected to tremendous noise in the summer. Less than 20% of Western Washingtonians have air conditioning, but with the sound levels we have to close our windows. The hilly terrain also seems to magnify the noise. Do you have or know of sound studies done on the surrounding communities?

    Do you have sound studies from hilly terrain, with sound waves traveling up slopes and also with reflecting back?

    Thank you for your comment. NIOSH does not study the environmental effects of noise, our main focus is on occupational exposures. However, we are aware of private environmental studies that were carried out by acoustical consultants hired by residents or local officials, some were conducted in similar hilly areas in Virginia and North Carolina. Some of the counties have been successful in requiring racetrack to ensure that noise levels from any car shouldn’t exceed 80 dB at the racetrack property line (Shenandoah Raceway in Paige County in Virginia), some have required the use of mufflers and finding that mufflers, contrary to popular sentiment among fans, do not detract from the appeal of racing. Some racetracks are taking a proactive role by constructing noise barriers around the property lines and adding trees and hedges to mitigate the effect of noise.

    I attended the Nationwide and Sprint Cup in Charlotte on 15 and 16 October. I was amazed at what a family-friendly organization NASCAR is. We were made to feel welcome by everyone. The entertainment was great, and my family and I are hooked.

    But I didn’t see a single warning about noise. I saw people selling earplugs and ear defenders, and I saw an extraordinary number of people going without ear protection. I saw children running around with their hands over their ears, and parents and children without protection. Some parents wore earplugs and let their children go without.

    I have made a career around loud noises, and the track was easily the loudest sustained noise environment I have ever been in. I took my ear defenders off once during a restart and the noise was painful, and we were 34 rows up.

    I have tinnitus from 24 years in the army. I wish now I had taken care of my hearing, because the ringing never goes away. I can’t hear the television properly, and I miss a lot of what is said around me.

    There are generations of people damaging their hearing. It would not be tolerated in an industrial setting: I am in a power plant in North Carolina right now, and there are boxes of earplugs everywhere, and signs ordering their use. I think that NASCAR should be making earplugs available for free, there should be warning signs up at the tracks, and the drivers should be doing public service announcements asking the fans to protect their hearing.

    Hearing loss is insidious and permanent. Exposure at an early age will come back and haunt you in 20 or 30 years, and tinnitus is not fun. Neither is asking your friends to repeat everything they say because you didn’t make out the words the first time.

    The solution to this is education. People should be warned of the risks of exposure, and given the tools to prevent the damage.

    Thank you for this report.

    Well put…

    Indeed education is the key…

    Protection for children, always…

    i have been home from nascar phoenix for 1 week i have lost my hearing!!!!!!i have been to other tracks but this time was different i sat in the 34th row i left my seat 1 time to go the restroom it was only for a few minutes!!! if i can save just 1 person by reading this you must be aware this is devastating i am not exaggerating i can no longer hear like before please don,t let this go on!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ve attended several NASCAR races.

    It is very loud and I would say most people have ear plugs and/or headphones.

    Ear plugs are available from many vendors at all the tracks.

    Workers for the teams and officials all wear ear protectionas well.

    Even though it is loud, but it is the American spirit about automotive racing.

    Especially at night time, when car lights are on, and so loud, very awesome!

    Have there been any studies involving nascar noise levels and possible detrimental effects on a developing fetus? I have tickets to the race at Bristol in 2 weeks and am having second thoughts about attending. I will be 14 weeks pregnant at the time of the race. I recently read a summary of an research study posted on the American Academy of Pediatrics on noise levels and the fetus. The article stated that sound is well transmitted into the uterine environment. The human cochlea and peripheral sensory organs are not completely developed until 24 weeks. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    This question does not have an easy answer. Most of our research has focused on prolonged occupational exposure so we have always recommended that expectant mothers who must work in an occupational setting where noise levels exceed the recommended NIOSH limit of 85 decibels (dBA) use caution or be removed from such environments. However, based on research in animals, one can say that if the mother is in a safe environment (that is, she does not have to wear hearing protection) the baby should be safe, too. If she is in an environment where she must wear hearing protection (like at a racing event!), it is not so clear. Sound transmits very well through the abdomen and amniotic fluid at lower frequencies (such as those generated by racing cars) and not so well at higher frequencies. Also, if an expectant mother is sitting or standing on a vibrating platform (think Bristol’s famous metal stands again), much of the noise energy can get transmitted through her body to the fetus. Finally, it will all depend on how close your seats will be to the track, how long you’ll be there, etc. Sound levels measured for spectators at Bristol ranged from 96-104 dBA, well above the NIOSH recommended limit of 85 dBA, with peak levels measuring between 120 and 150 dB. It’s true that at 14 weeks the fetus may not have their cochlea and sensory organs completely developed, but there have been studies that show reactive listening as early as 16 weeks. We recommend that you consult with your physician.

    Just back from my first NASCAR event, the Samsung 500 in Texas. We had a large group attend and everyone had hearing protection. Just behind us, a little boy about 5 was watching the race with his family with his fingers in his ears. We gave him plugs and he was happy. A couple and 2 young adults were behind us, and they did not have protection. We provided them extras. One of the guys behind us said this was his first race and he was going to “indulge” but was happier with the plugs. My experience tells me NASCAR should do more education for fans, especially first timers. When you have to text to someone sitting right next to you in the stand to communicate…you might need hearing protection… Nice work NIOSH.

    While I agree that noise is an essential part of NASCAR, I am glad to see that somebody is taking note of the harmful effects NASCAR has on our health!!!

    Thanks for the great post! It was very educational!


    This afternoon & evening my family attended the Indy car racing at the Milwaukee Mile (West Allis, WI) and before leaving home, I commented to my son that I heard what appeared to be the same auto racing sounds from outside our home. The Milwaukee Mile is about 9 miles from our house and the sound of the engines were audible at that distance! At the track, the sound is deafening. My son & I wear both earplugs & noise-reducing headsets at the track during racing. We also try to bring along a few extra sets of earplugs. Today, there was a young boy sitting in front of us with his grandfather. The child had what appeared to be toilet tissue stuffed in his ears in an attempt to protect them from the noise. I gave him a pair of our ear plugs for the child. And I wish that I had enough to share with every child I saw today without any protective device. It’s bad enough for adults (who should know better) to attend auto races without any protective gear; but I was appalled to see the numbers of small children, including babies, without any protection except covering their ears with their hands. There should be some sort of regulation that, for child spectators (including infants), protective hearing devices (at least ear plugs) should be mandatory.

    It may seem obvious that car racing is loud, it is very important to systematically document sound levels so we know what the range of risk is to hearing. I have had many, many patients tell me that if they had only known how much sound it would take to cause their hearing loss and tinnitus and how adversely their lives would be affected by having noisy fun, they would have been careful to protect their ears. Thanks for doing this study.

    I was wondering if you have performed a study on drag racing noise and its effects? If not, would your orgainzation study a local drag strip on a regular race weekend and an NHRA national event.

    We have not taken sound measurements at drag racing events. Through the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation program we can consider requests from workers, employers, or worker representatives to evaluate noise levels that may put workers at risk.

    Sadly, this is NASCAR. What do you expect from these people. You saw the angry e-mails about staying out of their business.* I’m a fan of Formula One and found this page because I was wondering why NASCAR cars are so loud. Apparently it’s by design and that’s the way they want it…just like they like crashes, and can’t race in the rain (slows them down), and only race on ovals.

    *sentence removed per NIOSH Blog Comment Policy

    I saw children running around with their hands over their ears, and parents and children without protection. Some parents wore earplugs and let their children go without.

    My experience tells me NASCAR should do more education for fans, especially first timers. When you have to text to someone sitting right next to you in the stand to communicate…you might need hearing protection… Nice work NIOSH.

    Indeed. That there should be more education for the people. The old me also don’t really bother about hearing protection when going for loud events. Thumbs up for NIOSH!

    Noise-level measurements? I am not sure that noise will stop anyone from racing. Again, it’s the money that is important..

    The measurement of Noise-level is interesting but I do not think its a significant solution to the problem. Interesting article.

    Very interesting article. But in the middle of so much money flowing around these kind of events (sponsors investors, etc.),I don’t think that no-one will really care about noise levels… unfortunately.

    Actually, the research findings highlighted in this article would not have been possible if it weren’t for the management of a racing team that cared enough about the safety and health of its employees and crew to ask NIOSH to conduct a health hazard evaluation. It’s important to note that racing fans expect and enjoy the loud car noise at these events. The knowledge we want to share is that people can be around loud noise and still protect their hearing – by limiting exposure time, taking breaks, and wearing hearing protection. We also hope that our research will encourage event sponsors and racing associations to step up their educational and awareness campaigns and promote safe hearing practices for their employees and fans alike.

    While I agree that noise is an essential part of NASCAR, I am glad to see that somebody is taking note of the harmful effects NASCAR has on our health!!!
    Thanks for the great post! It was very educational!

    My son is 21 months old and his father has visitation with him everyother weekend. His father races every weekend during the racing season and says that he is going to take him to the races but I am afraid this is going to harm my sons hearing. My son doesn’t have a choice at this age if he wants to go to the races and have possible hearing loss his father does and I don’t think he should take a 21 month old to the races every weekend he has him but need resources or research that racing effects hearing can you help?

    Noise-induced hearing loss for the general public and children is outside the scope of our area of research which focuses on workplace exposures. Research is not conclusive on whether noise is more harmful to younger ears, but since the effects of noise are cumulative over time, the earlier his ears are exposed to noise, the more hearing loss he can accumulate over his lifetime. You may want to consult the CDCs topic page on noise-induced hearing loss at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/noise/index.htm

    The Kentucky Speedway in Sparta is a fairly new addition to our state, the noise carries from border to border, well not really. I do feel the noise, the loudness is an essential part of the experience and the it’s the fan’s responsibility to protect their hearing.

    I saw children running around with their hands over their ears, and parents and children without protection. Some parents wore earplugs and let their children go without.

    For sure,,. educational materials to all human beings….

    Protection for children should be mandatory…

    I totally agree with Laura Kauth and am grateful for Marcia Becker’s thoughts about the noise level at movie theatres – never would have realised that fact. With the TV getting bigger, and sound system more sophisticated, we are at risk of damaging our senses.

    I own a karting track and am constantly making sure that our noise levels are as low as possible. A great read, thank you.

    Thanks for your comment, Chris. The readers of this blog would be very interested in the type of efforts you undertake to reduce noise levels at your track!

    Its good to hear that you are trying to find remedies for high decibel sound in NASCAR. Hope your project goes well and benefits NASCAR lovers. I’ve attended several NASCAR races. It is very loud and I would say most people have ear plugs and/or headphones. Ear plugs are available from many vendors at all the tracks.
    Workers for the teams and officials all wear ear protectionas well.


    Interesting article but it brings me to rumors I had heard previously about items such as Ipods and headphones causing hearing loss as well. I guess these items could cause hearing loss as well if played loud enough – looks like the younger generation is going to grow up partially deaf!

    I was able to pick and chose wisely, which resulted in a wealth of useful information about car racing. I’m looking forward to hearing from you again soon.

    I found this article very interesting. I am wondering how high the decibels are outside of the track for the surrounding neighborhoods because they are often not choosing to attend. And besides mufflers are there track designs that can mitigate some of the noise, such as non-metallic bleachers? Do fences keep the sound in and make it worse for the spectators. Earthen berms would those help for all involved?

    Thanks for your interest, Ann. As you may know, NIOSH is an occupational safety and health research agency so our studies focused on noise affecting those who participate and work inside these tracks. We did not perform any measurements outside to give a qualified answer, however, noise controls such as berms/trees, walls, even distance are very common solutions that have been shown to be effective to reduce noise transmission in many similar environments.

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