Staying Alive – Choosing a Hans Device or Hybrid Head and Neck Restraint
Staying Alive – Choosing a Hans Device or Hybrid Head and Neck Restraint
While head and neck restraints have a long history that stretches back more than a half-century, it’s only relatively recently that they’ve become recognized as vital safety equipment for racers. Top-tier series like NHRA, NASCAR, IndyCar, and World Endurance Challenge now require head and neck restraints, as do club and sportsman-level divisions within SCCA and IMSA. And although you may not be required to use a head and neck restraint to participate in a track day or run at an autocross test-and-tune session, it’s still a good idea to use one, even for solo events.
“Just because you’re alone on the racetrack doesn’t mean you can’t crash,” says Trevor Ashline of Simpson Racing. “And any impact over 30 miles per hour has the potential to break your neck.”
The widespread acceptance of head and neck restraints has brought greater choices in these devices. Over the years, several distinct styles of head and neck restraints have emerged, along with a variety of tether and helmet attachment designs. This wider array of options is, of course, a good thing for racers, but it can complicate choosing which is best for your needs and preferences.
Virtually any head and neck restraint will offer a measure of protection in the event of a crash, but there are some important things to consider when weighing your options to ensure you’re getting the best device for your needs.
STANDARD HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINTS
Devices like the HANS III and Stilo HANS Zero represent some of the latest iterations of traditional yoke-style head and neck restraints. These designs are effectively an evolution of the original head and neck restraint concept first pioneered by Dr. Robert Hubbard in the 1980s.
“Basically you’ve got two arms that come down from the back side of your neck and go over your chest, and a collar on the back side,” Ashline says. “The two arms go underneath your racing harnesses or seat belt. The shoulder belts provide friction to the device to hold it in place; while your torso is sliding around underneath the device, the device is staying stationary on the belts.
“When you’re going forward at the beginning of an impact, your torso is loading up the shoulder belts and your lap is loading up the lap belts,” continues Ashline. “At some point, those belts stop the pelvis and chest from moving forward, but if your head is unrestrained, it will continue moving forward. That’s what causes injury.”
Yoke-style head and neck restraints take that head load and put that energy into the upper torso and shoulder belts through the tethers that attach the head and neck restraint to the helmet. Once the load is applied to the collar of the head and neck restraint, the collar starts coming forward into the shoulder belts, and the energy is distributed more evenly through the torso.
Yoke-style devices are recognized as the standard for head and neck restraints, and they’re used throughout motorsports. But there are some situations where an alternative may prove to be the better option.
HYBRID HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINTS
Hybrid devices like the Simpson Hybrid S and Hybrid Pro Lite employ a concept similar to a yoke-style head and neck restraint, and they carry SFI certification along with FIA approval. But their design approach differs from yoke-style devices.
“A yoke-style device sends the arms over the collar bone,” Ashline explains. “But when I developed the Hybrid, I went the other way – down the back instead of over the front. There are two pads on both sides of the device that are on the back of your neck, and the collar uses two tethers per side instead of one. This design basically triangulates the tethers. On each side of the device, one tether comes from the front side of the pad and the other comes from the back. So, as the head load goes forward and the torso is going forward, the device is pulled into the shoulder belt, and the pad has friction with the shoulder belt. And that creates the pull-back from the tethers to hold the head back.”
This cam-style configuration helps to distribute the energy across the four tethers. Hybrid-style head and neck restraints also feature a harness that routes the driver’s arms through the device to keep it securely in place, rather than having the device simply rest on the driver’s shoulders. Ashline says that can prove to be a significant advantage in certain types of incidents.
“I basically grew up in dirt track racing. So when I began developing head restraints, I envisioned a situation where a sprint car was flipping down the back stretch at a half-mile race track. When that starts, those cars can end up flipping half a dozen times or more. What’s key to the hybrid design is that it maintains its position relative to your torso after an initial impact. So, after each flip and tumble, the device should be right back where it needs to be to take the load from another impact. A device that doesn’t use a harness like this is loose, so it might not be where it needs to be after that initial impact. The harness makes it return back.”
Ashline also points out that hybrid-style head and neck restraints can be used essentially anywhere head and neck restraints are a requirement. (IndyCar still requires a traditional HANS device, but we suspect that if you've reached this level of open-wheel racing, you probably already own a variety of head and neck restraints.)
It’s important to note that there are several different types of head and neck restraint tethers and helmet anchors. This means that not every anchor will work with every type of tether, so it’s important to verify that the tether on your head and neck restraint is compatible with the type of anchor that you plan to use it with.
Post Collar Anchor
This FIA-approved type of helmet post is considered the traditional attachment point design for a HANS device, and Ashline notes that it can be adapted to work with a hybrid-style head and neck restraint as well.
M61 Quick Release Anchor
Also an FIA-approved design, this type of attachment point allows you to simply pull the tether to detach the head restraint from the helmet.
Also a quick-release design, this SFI-only attachment type hooks to the tether via a loop mechanism.
As the name implies, this simple SFI-certified quick-release anchor utilizes a D-ring design and is commonly used in drag racing.
In order to determine what type of anchor design will fit your needs best, you should first consider the requirements of the sanctioning body you’re racing with. “If you’re racing in a series that’s FIA-oriented, you’ll need one of the FIA-approved designs – so a post collar anchor or an M61 quick release,” says Ashline. “After that, it’s really just a matter of determining what style you prefer – what you can get used to when it comes to hooking it up, and what’s going to cause you the least amount of trouble in the cockpit and when you’re getting out of the car.”
Some of this can be tough to determine without hands-on experience, though, so he suggests asking other racers for potential insight. “Take a look at what they’re using and get some feedback from them about what they like or don’t like. No matter what head and neck restraint setup you’re considering, someone at the racetrack has probably used one before.”
Each of these anchor styles has been designed so a driver can connect and disconnect a head and neck restraint from it by feel, but Ashline suggests getting familiarized with the process outside of a race-day setting.
“I tell people all the time that they need to get it into their mind’s eye. And that means sitting down in a relaxed place, maybe while you’re sitting on the couch watching some TV, and just practice attaching the restraint and disconnecting it with your helmet on. Do one side and then the second side – the second side is always harder to do than the first. That will allow you to get the hang of it in a low-stress situation, which is not always the case when you’re at the track.”
No matter what type of racing you do or what your personal preferences are, one point remains clear: Head and neck restraints are a vital piece of motorsports safety gear. These deceptively simple-looking systems have repeatedly proven effective at helping save lives. And with the wide range of choices now available in head and neck restraints, you have more options than ever to get the comfort, convenience, and affordability you need.