Erik Avery, one of the drivers for Cicero North Syracuse High School's team from Cicero, New York, watches while his seat belt is lifted with a bar to test for strength by Jan Ott (left) and Dave Sheddrick. Denise Cansler checks the connection between the lifting bar and the harness.
The Clean Green Machine not only passed the safety test, but eventually won a $1,500 first prize for prototype hydrogen vehicles, hitting a mark of 44.1 miles (71 kilometers) per kilowatt-hour. That’s the equivalent of 1,486 mpg (632 km/l).
Students in the Eco-marathon are required not only to have safety restraints and firewalls in the car (if they are using flammable fuel), they must wear full racing gear—driving suits, helmets, goggles, gloves—and have a roll bar installed to protect the driver's head.
Adrian Juergens, who works in fuel research for Shell Global Solutions, and who serves as technical manager for the Eco-marathon event in the United States, says he has seen prototype vehicles roll over (and the students walk away, unharmed.)
"They are using carbon fiber, aluminum, and doing everything they can to keep the weight down," says Juergens. "You can get too light—and on windy days the vehicle can roll over real easy." The same can happen on the race's unbanked curves on city streets; even though it's not a speed race, Juergens says he's seen racers try to go too fast as the adrenaline of competition kicks in.
"That's why I really appreciate the urban concept vehicles," which can handle the city streets much better, he says. A dozen cars this year were entered in the category for vehicles that meet safety criteria for driving on streets.