How the HANS Changed Racing Safety Forever

How the HANS Changed Racing Safety Forever

HANS devices, standing for Head and Neck Support device, are one of the more recent racing safety gear developments in the world of motorsports. Despite being relatively new, these devices have saved countless lives since they became mandatory across almost all high-level racing disciplines. 

The device was designed in the early 1980s by the American researcher and scientist Dr. Robert Hubbard. A biomechanical engineer by trade, he was exposed to the great risks posed by sudden stops in racing. His brother-in-law, a famous racer by the name of Jim Downing, started talking to him about the passing of a mutual friend who had suffered a fatal accident when he struck a sandbank. Looking at the data from the accidents, it was clear that one of the most fatal injuries was a basilar skull fracture that is caused due to the body remaining static thanks to seatbelts and the head moving forward due to momentum. 

With his experience as a biomechanical crash engineer at General Motors, he began to develop the first HANS system and the first prototype was out by 1985. The first crash test with the HANS system was done in 1989, where the crash dummies were using racing seat belts. Data showed that the energy load on the head and neck was reduced by 80%. The threshold for acute basilar skull fractures is at 740lbs of vertical neck tension and 700lbs of forward neck shear. the HANS managed to reduce the tension to just 210lbs and also reduced compression by 28 millimeters. Many companies initially refused to manufacture the product, leading Dr. Hubbard to start his own company, Hubbard Downing Inc., to manufacture and sell the HANS. Interest in the product was initially very low, until Formula 1 started to inquire after the unfortunate passing of Ratzenberger and Senna. At the time, Formula 1 had left it up to Mercedes to develop a safety program which consisted of an airbag system but it was then written off as the HANS greatly outperformed it. 

The way that the HANS device protects you against these grave injuries is by limiting hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck. The device is U-shaped, with the back sitting behind your neck and two arms that lay flat over your pectoral muscles. It is supported by your shoulders and attaches to the helmet via straps that feature quick release systems. The HANS device's purpose is to restrict whipping of the head in the event of a crash without restricting normal movement of the neck. In the event of a crash, your body would be stopped by your seatbelts while your head is stopped by your neck. It is exactly this excessive stress on the neck that causes these injuries and the HANS maintains the relative position of the neck to the body. The U shaped arms then transfer the energy of the deceleration to the much stronger torso. 

The first to adopt the system was the National Hot Rod Association in 1996, but did not make it mandatory until 2001. Despite the success of the device and the fantastic results shown in testing, many drivers in NASCAR resisted the adaptation of the device. The most famous driver out of them is Dale Earnhardt, who passed away from a basilar skull fracture. He refused to wear the HANS device, fearing that it restricts movement and creates great discomfort for the driver. After other fatal incidents, NASCAR finally decided to make the HANS device mandatory in late 2001. Formula 1 followed suit in 2003 after 2 years of Mercedes' testing the system from them, from 1996 to 1998. After Formula 1, almost all racing disciplines began to mandate wearing a HANS system and it is now an essential piece of gear for everyone. 

Ever since its importance and protective features were understood, many companies went to develop their own head and neck support systems. One of these companies is Stand21, who developed their FHR systems that we so often see in the highest ranks of motorsports such as Formula 1. With decades of experience in racing safety gear, they brought their expertise and attention towards this revolutionary safety gear and developed their lineup consisting of Club Series, HiTec, Ultimate and Featherlite. We're proud to be offering their products on our store which can be browsed using the link below. 

 

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