HANS Device: From condemned inconvenience to lifesaver
In the world of Formula One, nothing is more important than driver safety. And one of the most successful and acclaimed facets of Formula One driver safety is the HANS device.
HANS stands for the Head and Neck Support system. This device, which during and accident will reduce the forward momentum of the driver’s neck and head caused by deceleration of the car, was invented in 1980, but was not made mandatory in Formula One until 2003.
The HANS device is actually quite a simple device. It consists of a carbon fiber ‘collar’ which fits around the driver’s neck. The two “arms” of the HANS collar then slides under the shoulder belts of the safety harness. The device is then in turn connected to the actual driver’s helmet by three tethers, which gives the driver the ability to still move his head freely under normal driving conditions.
When the driver is involved in an accident however, the normal forward momentum experienced by his head, which in turn can cause not only skull fractures but also neck damage is counteracted upon by the tethers attached to the helmet and reduces the amount of forward momentum experienced by the drivers head.
The HANS device is also entirely passive, as it does not need any electrical power to operate. The device is simply attached to the driver’s helmet and under his safety harness.
Testing figures have shown that the HANS device reduces head movement by almost 45 percent, the acceleration of the head by 68 percent and the forces applied to the neck during an accident by up to 86 percent.
The initial HANS device was however unsuitable for Formula One and revisions had to be made. But with the testing figures as an indication of the effectiveness of the device and with minor tweaking for the restrictive cockpits, it was official made mandatory in 2003. Most drivers however immediately complained about their comfort levels within the cockpit while wearing the device, citing concerns over shoulder aching, restrictive movements, and concerns of it’s actual effectiveness.
Formula One driver Roland Ratzenberger died during the 1994 San Marino Formula One Grand Prix of Basilar skull fractures – a high force injury that may cause cerebrospinal fluid leakage due to possible laceration of vessels of dura (the outer membrane of the meninges which envelope the brain and spinal cord), which in turn leads to intracranial bleeding.
During the 2007 season, Formula One driver Robert Kubica had a very similar high speed accident during the Canadian Grand Prix, but not only survived the accident but only suffered a mild concussion and sprained ankle.
The HANS device is now used worldwide in almost all forms of racing in various models and it was finally accepted as being one of the most innovative and injury reducing protective device available to the drivers today.