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Demolition derbies have existed in the United States for decades. These vents involve drivers crashing cars into one another until there’s only one left. This motorsport is somewhat niche these days, but it has devoted fans who attend derbies at county fairs and the like.

A common question when it comes to demolition derbies is whether they have any rules. Read on to find out the history of demolition derbies, their rules, and dangerous incidents that have resulted in severe injuries.

A brief history of the demolition derby

Drivers compete in a demolition derby at the Cambria County Fair on September 8, 2016, in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania
Demolition derby | DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images

The history of demolition derbies is debated, and documentation is limited. According to the Demolition Derby League, Larry Mendelsohn is usually considered the founder of the sport. He held a demolition derby in Long Island, New York. But because the term was used before Mendelsohn’s event, the true founder must have come before him.

Don Basile held one in 1946, although some call his event more of a race than a demolition derby. Some records state the motorsport might have existed since the Great Depression.

However murky its origins may be, the demolition derby became the most popular in the ’70s and beyond, gaining mainstream appeal. These events still exist today. They are most popular in rural areas and are usually featured at county fairs.  Although they are less popular today than they used to be, their legacy endures.

Are there rules in demolition derbies?

Because demolition derbies are often local events, there is no official rule set that all of them use. Instead, each event is subject to its own rules. But some general guidelines carry across derbies. Many of the regulations are for driver safety.

For example, 5 Flags Speedway lists in its rules as follows: “All doors must be chained, welded, or wired closed to prevent from opening during the Derby. Metal straps can be welded to the door seams with a 3 in. wide x 1/8 thick max.”

That rule is mainly in place for the driver’s sake. If the doors open, the other vehicle has direct access to the driver and could severely injure them. In addition, drivers are required to wear DOT-certified helmets, offering further protection.

Dangerous incidents at these events


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Despite rules designed for safety, demolition derbies can be incredibly dangerous for drivers and spectators. According to the Daily Mail, a 2019 derby accident killed a 36-year-old woman and injured seven others. One of the inured was a 1-year-old. A driver’s vehicle had a mechanical issue, causing the braking and steering mechanisms to malfunction. Once the driver accelerated, the car wouldn’t stop, leading to the accident.

According to Fox 13 News, another crash killed a 50-year-old man in Millard County, Utah. He had judged the event, and an accident caused a car to fly through the air and hit him directly. He died on impact. This was the county’s 40th-annual festival, and nothing of this severity had happened in the past.

Some incidents have even occurred this year. According to WFMZ News, a driver in Plainfield, Pennsylvania, was in his vehicle when the gas tank burst, soaking him and the car in fuel. It suddenly ignited, resulting in severe burns.

Though incidents such as these don’t show up in the news often, they illustrate the sport’s dangers nonetheless.