The Danger of Artificial Turf Warning Tracks

It’s about safety…

With the increase in artificial turf baseball and softball fields, one issue has really grabbed my attention — Warning Tracks!

Ballfield warning tracks are meant to keep players from getting hurt

Warning tracks have been a part of baseball/softball for decades. They serve a critical purpose in warning players that they are approaching a permanent fixture of some kind. When players are focused on catching a fly ball, they are looking up at the ball, not down at the field.  Fielders rely on a change of texture under foot to alert them that they are approaching immovable barriers along the perimeter of a playing field.

Artificial turf warning tracks don’t have a change of texture, only a change of color, which puts players at risk. A player engrossed in catching a ball is rarely going to think about looking down to see the change of turf color that notifies them they are on the artificial turf warning track and rapidly approaching an obstacle.  And therein lies the problem with the rapid proliferation of artificial turf ballfield.

Changing turf color just isn’t enough

Pretty much all artificial turf fields delineate the warning track by simply changing the color of the artificial turf. Unless a ballplayer is looking down when he approaches the warning track, he or she will have no other way to be warned of a potential collision with the wall. There’s no change in feel, like turf grass to warning track soil — not audible difference when your spikes hit the warning track material. It’s a purely visual difference. If I was a college or high school athletic director, I would be pressuring the artificial turf manufactures for a better solution to warn fielders of the danger. Ultimately, it comes down to those decisionmakers to look out for their players’ safety.

Ideal width of warning tracks

Warning tracks play a key role in the game and in the maintenance and upkeep of a ballfield. The standard rule of thumb for the width of a warning track is to provide a 3-step warning for a player who is running at full speed. This allows one step for the player to realize they are on a different textured surface and two additional steps to decelerate before impacting the solid object such as a fence. Since the age of a player is a fairly good indicator for length of stride at a full out run, use this chart for recommended outfield warning track widths per age group.

Warning Track Width
Oldest AGE GROUP Using Field WIDTH of Warning Track
10 & under 8′ – 10′
11 – 12 10′ – 12′
13 – 16 12′ – 15′
17 & older 15′ – 18′

 

Warning tracks serve other purposes, too

On natural grass fields, warning tracks not only provide a safety feature to the field but they also provide a marked roadway for maintenance vehicles to travel on instead of on the grass. The correct size/width warning track also allows the foot traffic that exits the dugouts to spread out before stepping foot on the grass thereby reducing turfgrass wear. Warning tracks also reduce or eliminate maintenance of vegetation along and against walls and fences on the perimeter of the field.

But for the sake of player safety, let’s hope that turf manufacturers/installers and athletic directors pay more attention to this issue and address it before too many more faux artificial turf warning tracks are installed.

Learn About Building the Warning Track

Paul Zwaska

Paul Zwaska

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been with Beacon Athletics for two decades. Among his many accomplishments, he authored Groundskeeper University, the first online ballfield maintenance training venue and continues to find innovative ways to help groundskeepers.

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