Northern Ireland

Extra safety measures at North West 200

Malachi Mitchell Thomas Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Malachi Thomas was killed after a high-speed crash at last year's event

Extra safety measures have been put in place ahead of this week's North West 200 motorcycle races.

The NW200 received £124,000 from Sport NI to carry out improvements.

More than 200 new bales and 135 kerb protectors have been added and 1.25 miles (two kilometres) of new fencing erected at the course.

A rider was taken to hospital after a crash during a practice session on Tuesday morning, having injured his leg.

Practice sessions for North West 200 are on Tuesday and Thursday morning, ahead of races on Thursday evening and Saturday.

The event has come under fire after a number of accidents in recent years; English rider Malachi Thomas died after a high-speed crash last year.

In 2015, spectator Violet McAfee was critically injured when a bike came off the course and into her front garden as she watched the race.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Ryan Farquhar was seriously injured in a crash at last year's NW200

Speaking later from her hospital bed, she said what had happened would not stop her from attending the "terrific" event.

Early warning

As well as the extra fences and kerb protectors, 12 sets of amber safety lights have also been deployed around the NW200's 8.9-mile triangular circuit.

The lights are used to give riders an early warning of any incidents during practice or racing.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption English rider Simon Andrews died as a result of the injuries he sustained at the NW200 in 2014

"The extra funding we have received has allowed us to make significant safety improvements for both riders and spectators," said event director, Mervyn Whyte.

"As race organisers our top priority is to try to make the racing as safe as possible.

"The new equipment we have purchased is another huge step in that process and we are very grateful for the support we have received."

Image caption Violet McAfee said she would still watch the 'terrific' event despite being injured when a bike careered off the course

The extra funding was announced last October by the then Communities Minister Paul Givan who visited the course to see the improvements.

"We have seen the new equipment and it is another step forward for the event in terms of safety," he said.

Image caption The event attracts thousands of spectators annually

"We want to try to make this great event safer for everyone involved and even more spectacular than it already is."

He was accompanied by Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for North Antrim.

"Safety is critical in road racing and these measures enhance the safety precautions that are already made by Mervyn Whyte and his team at the North West 200," said Mr Paisley.

"The new bales and kerb protectors will give riders the best possible protection and the lights will provide them with early warning in a sport where the margins are so fine."

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