One of the most significant safety items to be developed for drivers in all forms of motor sports is the HANS device. Also known as a head restraint, this device supports the head and neck and reduces injuries to the skull and brain.
The history of the HANS starts back in the early 1980’s. The device was developed by biomechanical engineering professor Dr. Robert Hubbard along with his brother-in-law, Jim Downing who was involved in road racing. After the death of a mutual friend, the two started to analyze what could be done to protect drivers from one of the biggest dangers of sudden stops and impacts, the basilar skull fracture.
Sadly, the wide-spread acceptance and use of the HANS in motor sports did not increase dramatically until after the much publicized death of NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt in 2001. His tragedy along with three others that year finally convinced several organizations of the need to protect drivers from these injuries. NHRA racers began using the HANS in 1996 but it was not made mandatory until 2004 for the Pro ranks.
To understand how the HANS protects drivers we can look at the physics involved in an impact. In an article dated January 2012 Car and Driver Magazine stated, “With only a neck to restrain it, a 15 pound helmeted head lunges forward at 107 g during a 40-g head-on collision.” In essence the body is restrained by seat belts but the head will whip forward and side to side with load, tension and shear in an impact. Gravitational force or “g” force is the measurement of acceleration that causes weight. An example of the effect of negative g forces, a drag racer traveling at 225mph who deploys the parachutes will be exposed to negative 3 or 4 g’s. Imagine what 40 negative g’s would be on a body.
The key in Hubbard’s research and design of the HANS was finding a way to keep the head and neck motion aligned with the torso. This is done by outfitting the helmet with anchors using threaded inserts that are bonded directly inside the helmet shell. Quick Click anchors are then snapped over the post insert. Fabric tethers are added to give the driver access to unlatch the device after their run. The device itself is made of carbon fiber and shaped like a U. It sits on the driver’s shoulders behind the nape of the neck.
When the driver is seated in the car the shoulder straps of the seat belts will go over the device and it is secured underneath the straps. The quick clicks are snapped into the helmet anchors and the driver is now properly secured.
Wearing the HANS does take some getting used to. Its purpose is to restrain head and neck movement so you will not be able to make some of the same kind of movements you did without it. However, it is worth the effort and after using the device many drivers state they would never go without one. There are a couple of different designs available so finding one that fits and feels comfortable should be easy to do. Your existing helmet can be outfitted with the anchors and your HANS will be SFI certified 38.1 which is the standard now. A recertification is required every five years.
From my own experience, I’ve worn a HANS for many years because I felt it made complete sense and I wanted to acclimate myself to it before going faster. We can be proactive in our own safety and thankfully, through the efforts of Dr. Hubbard we can benefit from the outstanding protection of the HANS device. Countless drivers have been saved from injury with this vital safety item and its benefits of keeping you safe in the driving seat are priceless. Good luck, be safe and have fun out there!
By Yvonne Lucas