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A HANS® device is a head and neck support system used to protect drivers from injuries in high-risk situations. The system uses a pair of carbon-fiber tethers attached to a shoulder support system to help prevent the head and neck from snapping forward during a high-speed collision. HANS® devices are most commonly worn by race car drivers but also are used in high-performance boating and other racing sports. The restraints are credited with preventing head injuries in several accidents since 2003.
The HANS® device was designed in the 1980s to address the problem of race car driver fatalities in high-speed accidents. While safety features such as roll cages, safety helmets and seat belts offered some crash protection, drivers were still being injured or killed during high-velocity, head-on collisions. In many of these accidents, the seat restraints would keep the driver in place, but momentum would violently snap the driver’s head forward, producing trauma to the neck and skull. Several fatal accidents came as the result of Basilar skull fractures during various car racing events.
To deal with skull fractures and other injuries, biomechanical engineering professor Robert Hubbard designed the HANS® device to keep the head and neck from moving forward during an accident while still retaining the driver’s head mobility and field of vision. The device is made up of three main components: a shoulder support, helmet anchors, and tethers, which attach the helmet to the support. The driver’s helmet must be tethered to the shoulder area, not to the seat or other areas of the car. In the event of a crash, the tethers keep the head from snapping forward and moving too quickly while the rest of the body remains in place. The device is manufactured in several sizes to provide comfort and safety to different body types.
The HANS® device was approved for use for several years before being widely mandated by the major governing bodies of racing. Many race car drivers were reluctant to use the HANS® device, because they felt it was uncomfortable and might compromise safety in other areas. Adoption was slow until the deaths of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and several other professional racers from Basilar skull fractures around the turn of the 21st century. As of 2011, HANS® devices are now required equipment for drivers on most professional automobile racing circuits and have been credited with saving the lives of drivers in several high-speed collisions.