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  • April 2013
  • 5 minutes

Motor Sports: Safer than Ever

In Brief
As Formula 1 season shifts into gear, RGA's Chris Boatman assesses the underwriting implications of motorsport.    

Over recent years, motor sports have gone from perhaps one of the most dangerous sporting activities, to one of the safest. This remarkable change is primarily the result of improvements in automobile design, safety devices and standards, technology and stronger regulation.

The dramatic and persistent reductions in fatalities in all motor sports stemming from these items have allowed insurers to introduce significant reductions in life insurance costs.

The tragic death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in 2011, at the US IndyCar Series in Las Vegas, captured headlines in both the US and the UK, in part because of how rarely fatal accidents now occur in motor sports.

Wheldon was one of 18 UK nationals to die in professional and amateur motor sport (not including motorcycles) in the last six years – a rate far lower than the 25 fatalities among UK nationals in the six years from 2000 to 2005.

More than 5,000 motor sport events are held each year in the UK alone, involving 200,000 participants in some capacity. The overall mortality rate for all types of motor racing is however currently well below 0.10 per thousand per annum, according to RGA’s most recent research.

This is allowing far more participants to be accepted at standard rates for life insurance. This is also accelerating the application process for amateur motor sport enthusiasts, as they will no longer need to complete lengthy questionnaires.

Formula 1

The last Formula 1 deaths were those of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The safety-driven rule changes introduced in 1998, plus regulations and safety devices brought in since then, have made F1 today a much safer sport. In addition, the provision of medical care at Formula 1 competitions has improved remarkably since the 1980s.

Due to the low number of participants in F1 racing, however, the standalone data for its participants is not credible: even one new death would substantially increase F1’s mortality rate. In view of this, some caution on the part of underwriters is still required, but because of the sport’s increased safety overall, reduced ratings are still justifiable.

Other Circuit Racing

RGA’s research has found that the safety record for all forms of circuit racing is currently excellent, with a mortality rate of less than 0.10 per thousand per annum, and no discernible difference between the various categories of circuit racing.

This improvement in mortality is allowing both amateur circuit racing drivers and professional racing drivers competing in national events to be accepted at standard rates.

However, professional drivers competing in international events such as Formula 3, World Touring Car Championship, and World Endurance Championship – Le Mans – are still rated, but at a much lower rating than before.

This also simplifies the application process, as previously anyone participating in circuit racing had to provide full details of the type of event, car driven, size of engine, number of races, accident history etc.


Rallying has always been a dangerous activity. It still accounts for the majority of motor sport fatalities, with a rate of 5.7 per thousand per annum for international licence holders. National licence holders have a more favourable mortality rate of less than 0.4 per thousand per annum.

Amateur rally drivers and co-drivers are therefore acceptable at standard rates, and professional drivers and co-drivers attract a small rating. With the higher mortality rate in international rallying, competitors are accepted with rates similar to those of F1 drivers.

Drag Racing

Drag racing has built an impressive safety record, with only one fatality recorded in the last six years in the UK. Ratings are no longer required for life insurance. 
Other types of UK motor sport activities.

The vast majority of UK motor sports continue to show good safety records and low fatal injury rates. They continue to be accepted at standard rates for life insurance.
Morbidity statistics are difficult to come by, but risk of serious injury remains significant. For this reason exclusions continue to be applied for disability and living benefit products for most motor sport activities.

Motor sports have long been a very popular British pastime and one in which participation is now safer than ever. RGA’s research indicates more favourable terms can be granted for life insurance applicants who participate in these sports, whether as professionals or amateurs. This will reduce the number of people needing extra premium ratings, speed the application process and improve completion ratios.  

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Chris Boatman
Executive Director, EMEA Underwriting Operations


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