What a Formula 1 race does to your eardrums

December 4, 2013, American Institute of Physics

As an acoustical engineer, Craig Dolder – currently a graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin – knew that loud noises can damage hearing. Even so, when Canada's Formula 1 Grand Prix coincided with an Acoustical Society of America (ASA) meeting that he was attending in Montreal, Quebec, earlier this year, Dolder was drawn to the racetrack and the deafening roar of the Formula 1 engines.

And he brought his sound level meter with him.

"I've always wanted to go to one of those races," Dolder said. "So I made the arrangements, and then I thought to myself: This is going to be really loud. What do I need to wear to protect myself?"

The advice he found online was "all over the spectrum," he said, with some people recommending foam earplugs and earmuffs, some prescribing noise-canceling headphones, and still others avowing that getting your ears blasted was an integral part of the Formula 1 experience. The technical papers he read provided assessments of sound levels for NASCAR and other races, but he could find nothing that measured the noise levels or dosage specifically for Formula 1. So he decided to conduct his own test at the Montreal racetrack.

"I thought the information should be out there so people could make a more informed decision about what to wear for ," he said.

Dolder stood among the general admission crowd within about 25 feet of the racing cars, and he measured the sound at three different locations. Formula 1 tracks are not a simple oval shape, so the can be significantly different depending on whether drivers are slowing down for a hairpin turn or revving their engines for a straightaway. After gathering his data, Dolder calculated the noise dosage at the three locations and compared it to dosage standards used in the U.S.

Of the locations he tested, the loudest by far was at the end of a hairpin turn just before a straightaway. Dolder calculated that without hearing protection, an audience member would get 234 percent of his daily allowed noise dosage going by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Using the much stricter standards imposed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the noise at this location leapt to a staggering 8,585 percent. These two standards serve to protect workers against cumulative noise exposure (5 days a week, 8 hours a day for a working life), so these dosages alone do not indicate the potential for permanent damage after one race, Dolder said.

The quietest position he tested was at the beginning of an S turn, when drivers were slowing down. Here, an audience member would get only 53 percent of his daily noise dosage by OSHA standards.

Where spectators stand to view the race probably does not matter as long as they are wearing good hearing protection, he said. And a good pair of ear muffs should not get too much in the way of a full experience of the race.

"You will still feel [those loud noises] in your body," Dolder said. "But it's not worth the risk of exposing yourself to that noise unprotected."

Dolder will present his results at the 166th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) – which will not coincide with a Formula 1 race this year – to be held Dec. 2-6, 2013, in San Francisco, Calif.

Explore further: Now hear this: Scientists discover compound to prevent noise-related hearing loss

More information: Presentation 5aNS7, "Noise exposure in the general audience of a Formula 1 race," will take place on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. PST. The abstract describing this work can be found here: asa2013.abstractcentral.com/planner.jsp

Related Stories

Now hear this: Scientists discover compound to prevent noise-related hearing loss

August 29, 2013
Your mother was right when she warned you that loud music could damage your hearing, but now scientists have discovered exactly what gets damaged and how. In a research report published in the September 2013 issue of The ...

Concert cacophony: Short-term hearing loss protective, not damaging

April 15, 2013
Contrary to conventional wisdom, short-term hearing loss after sustained exposure to loud noise does not reflect damage to our hearing: instead, it is the body's way to cope.

Farmers lose their hearing at alarming rates

October 10, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Bruce Breuninger's 350-acre centennial farm sprawls beneath the ceramic blue sky, quiet but for the occasional bird call and Dudley the dog's aimless barking.

Few parents believe their teens are at risk of hearing loss

November 22, 2013
(HealthDay)—Few parents of adolescents believe their children are at risk of hearing loss, according to a study published online Nov. 21 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.