The HANS Device, Saving Lives On The Racing Field
Even a little car accident in the early days of auto racing may be devastating. For instance, Patrick Jacquemart died in a head-on crash with a dirt bank near Mid-Ohio in 1981. Jacquemart suffered severe brain damage from a fractured skull while his car was largely unharmed. For the benefit of other racers, two of Jacquemart's buddies intervened and developed a safety device that revolutionized auto racing. These pals were Dr. Bob Hubbard, the brother-in-law of Jacquemart, and Jim Downing. The two decided to combine Hubbard's engineering and skull anatomy knowledge with Downing's racing skills to create new safety equipment in an effort to stop tragedies like Jacquemart's from happening again. The HANS device, which stands for "head and neck support," is the name given to their straightforward and successful creation.
The HANS device is described as a car airbag in Car and Driver. However, the HANS device uses a higher collar and two tethers to restrain the driver's head in the event of a crash rather than inflating a cushion to stop the vehicle. In other terms, it's a shoulder collar that fastens to the driver's helmet and the safety harnesses on the automobile seats. It prevents the kind of excessive force that would normally cause significant or catastrophic neck and head injuries in the case of a crash by keeping the racer's head and neck correctly aligned with the torso.
But it took a long time for the HANS device to become profitable, and regrettably it took the passing of a well-known racer for NASCAR to pay attention. The racing world, including NASCAR, did not take the HANS device seriously until Dale Earnhardt Sr. passed away in 2001 at the Daytona International Speedway in a collision resembling Jacquemart's. Nowadays, the majority of racing organizations mandate that all drivers wear a HANS device.
Basilar skull fractures are what the HANS device is intended to stop. The quick deceleration of a car is what causes those injuries. For instance, NASCAR found that Earnhardt impacted the wall at 160 mph and immediately slowed by 42 to 44 mph in just 80 milliseconds in his deadly Daytona collision. The Delta v refers to this abrupt slowdown. There are no driver fatalities in NASCAR, where certified HANS are required due to the organization's emphasis on safety, in the ten years following Earnhardt's death, despite the fact that there were 126 fatalities from crashes on drag strips and short tracks where HANS devices are not required.
While it is difficult to provide precise statistics on how many lives have been saved by the HANS device, we do know this. And according to HANS, up to 34 driver fatalities—or 27 percent—of those 126 fatalities may have been avoided had the authorized HANS device been used. Furthermore, since the HANS device was required, no driver in an Indy car or in any of the main NASCAR series has died from a basilar skull fracture.
Dr. Bob Hubbard, the creator of the HANS safety device, passed away on February 5, 2019, and the motorsports industry lamented his loss. 75 years old was Hubbard. He had a significant influence on racing safety as the co-inventor of the HANS device, but he also contributed to the development of automobile safety in general. He also worked for General Motors on car safety, and up until his retirement in 2006, he was a professor of materials science and mechanics at Michigan State University.