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The HANS Device

Be Safe Today & Race Another Day

The HANS device (Head And Neck Support device) is a safety item compulsory in many auto racing sports. Primarily made of carbon-fiber, the device is something of a U-shape, the back of the U set behind the back of the neck and the two arms laying flat along the top of the chest over the pectoral muscles; the device in general supported by the shoulders. It is attached only to the helmet—and not to the belts, driver's body, or seat—by two anchors on either side, much like the Hutchens device but placed slightly back. The purpose of the device is to stop the head from whipping forward in a crash but to not restrict the movement of the neck; instead, when the body slides forward in a crash, the HANS device stays where it was on the belts with the friction of the rubber surface on its arms, the straps only becoming taunt and coming into effect during the crash. This reduces the chances of head or neck injuries, particularly a basal skull fracture, in the event of a crash.

The device was designed in the early 1980s by Dr. Robert Hubbard, a professor of biomechanical engineering at Michigan State University. After talking to his brother-in-law, road-racer Jim Downing, after the death of one of their mutual friends from such a head injury, it was decided that some sort of protection was required to help prevent injuries from sudden stops, especially during accidents. The primary cause of death amongst drivers during races was through violent head movements, where the body remains in place because of the seat belts but the momentum keeps the head moving forwards. It is still debated whether the death of popular NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was the result of a broken seat belt, or inadequate head and neck restraint.

Many drivers found it difficult to get used to the device, claiming it to be uncomfortable, more restrictive and fearing that it would cause more injuries and problems than it prevented. Some stated that the positioning of the device made the seat belts feel less secure or rubbed on the shoulders or collarbone. Many of these problems, however, stem from improper mounting of the seat belts, wrong sizes, and occasionally drivers, uncomfortable with how much freedom the device gives the head to move, will shorten the straps to the familiar length required for the Hutchens device, far short of the five inches recommended for the HANS. The seat belts seem to be looser than they were because of the extra padding and broader weight distribution of the HANS; belt slippage is caused by improper belt mounting: the belts being mounted either too far apart, or too low or high.

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