Over The Lip

Sand Sports Editor, Michael Sommer, has been an off-road enthusiast since the early 1980s. Safety has always been important to him and his riding buddies

Off-Road Safety

Off-Road Safety
By Michael Sommer | July 5, 2013

For the record, I’ve never supported the practice of signing new laws into order designed to make life safer for the masses. I was raised to believe that a person takes responsibility for their own actions and I’ve seen firsthand that when people are in control of themselves they achieve higher levels of success. And they also become stronger, smarter and more accomplished. This holds true in most cases for everyday life, but a prime example is sports and professional athletes. What makes some basketball players excel over others is that they’ve fine tuned their mind and body through self-discipline and practice to perform better on the court than their competition. The same scenario holds true for football and baseball players, the use of performance enhancing supplements notwithstanding. I’m not talking about gaining a quick advantage. Success comes from hard work, self-awareness and discipline, as well as making better decisions to prevent placing oneself in potentially hazardous situations.
Having been involved with Sand Sports Magazine as an editorial director since the very beginning, 19 years ago, and as an editor with Hot VWs before that, I have seen several situations take a turn for the worse when someone loses focus. This holds true for me in my life, as well. But, specifically what I’m talking about is in regards to safety. Safety in all forms whether it be driving a vehicle, riding as a passenger, working with tools and equipment to build and repair vehicles, as well as the decisions a person makes in regards to the safety equipment they use on their vehicle. We live in a modern world with nearly seven billion people on the planet, and the message of “safety and caution” is always present.
What’s the purpose of having safety messages and warning labels attached to most everything we see and do these days? Simply put, to protect us from ourselves, and to protect others from poor decisions we may end up making at some point in time. When we pack up our equipment and head out to our favorite riding area, most of the laws and rules you are being asked to follow are related to safety. Safety for yourself, as well as others who may cross your path. An example of these messages would be the use of helmets, whip flags, safety harnesses and arm restraints, obeying speed limits, riding in vehicles in an unsafe manner, as well as dumping your waste and, here’s a big one — not drinking alcohol or taking drugs while operating your vehicle.
A lot of these rules and regulations make perfect sense. Consider this scenario for a moment. If a person is driving his long-travel buggy in the dunes and doesn’t have a whip flag, or is not wearing seat belts, and another person is riding an ATV without wearing a helmet right after consuming a few beers at the local desert bar, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if their paths crossed the situation could be hazardous. Safety equipment comes in many forms and, oftentimes, is used as a matter of choice by people who understand what happens when either man or machine “fails.” Whether it be a mechanical or component failure, or a failure of “superstar talent,” the results can end up being disastrous.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are people who used to read this magazine who are no longer here to enjoy the contents of this issue. I write this article in memory of them. They met their fate doing something they enjoyed very much as a hobby, recreating in the sand dunes. I’m most certain that when they headed out on what would be their last ride, they had no idea what was about to happen. In fact, I was close friends with one individual who ended up having a tragic accident right in front of his family members. He decided to make one quick pass in front of camp before driving the family’s sand car into the trailer. The only problem is that he made the decision to pull a wheelie and wasn’t wearing his safety harness, so when the car stood up and flipped over he was ejected from the seat. Needless to say, this was a horrific sight for his family and the duning community lost a good friend.
As I write those words, I am reminded of several photos and video clips I have seen from decades ago where people drove archaic vehicles without any signs of safety equipment. Recently, I watched a video clip on YouTube of a family in a modified open-body passenger car, combing the tall dunes. It appears to have been shot in the 1950s or early ‘60s. They didn’t have safety harnesses and none of them were wearing sunglasses or eye protection as the sand sprayed in their faces. Were people less responsible in the early days of this sport? What was it like before there were laws stating you had to wear a helmet or have the proper safety gear mentioned earlier? It’s my understanding that people took responsibility for their own actions. Those who were interested in self preservation exercised caution and lived life in a safe manner. “Drive Safely” was the message during our youth.
One of my friends used to go to the dunes back in the 1960s, although these days he’s more interested in street rods. But, he still has a poster-size photo hanging in his garage that shows him jumping a Corvair-powered two-seat buggy over a dune. It’s pure nostalgia and captures the true spirit of what the sand sport used to be like. I asked him what it was like to go to Glamis way back then. He said it always seemed remote, desolate and very peaceful. Whenever you saw another duner, you’d give a friendly wave, and people always stopped to offer help if someone was “parked” in the dunes. Safety was always a concern because the nearest town was 30 miles away, and that’s after you made it out of the dunes and were back on the highway.
Safety has always been a concern when participating in an extreme sport such as off-roading, and that is why we’ve decided to devote extra space in this issue for this important subject. Inside you’ll read an article from Neal Rideout about how he personally exercises safety in the dunes, as well as a tragic accident he witnessed at Dumont. We’ve also dedicated several pages to the subject of off-road lighting systems, which use modern technology as a form of safety for driving at night. And “WBGO” shares some ATV riding tips from a professional racer, in an effort ot help people become better riders without learning the “hard” way.
We hope you enjoy this issue of Sand Sports, and encourage you to exercise caution the next time you hit the dunes. See you in the sand.

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Dune Lambo
Andy Chandler was lucky enough to get his hands on a buggy that previously belonged to Andrew Buck of Buckshot Racing. This X3 is unique, fast, and it looks nicer than ever thanks to Andy's hard work.

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