HANS up for safety - Allianz
21st October 2002
After its successful deployment in US racing series and German Touring Car Masters, the Head And Neck Support system (HANS) could also be used to improve safety in Formula One in the near future.
A driver’s head and neck are subjected to high stresses in such combinations. Professional drivers thus pay special attention to the neck’s muscle groups in their fitness programs. Still, there are some situations in Formula One for which no amount of neck training can prepare a driver. In the event of an accident, the head and neck are the most vulnerable parts of the body. To protect them as much as possible, the FIA mandates extremely strict cockpit construction standards. For the 2001 season, it required the cockpit walls at driver’s head level to slope up towards the airbox at an angle of at least 16 degrees. Lateral cockpit crash tests have also been mandatory since 2001.
One of the most revolutionary innovations in this field is the Head And Neck Support system, also known as HANS, which will probably be used for the first time in Formula One in 2003 and was tested by several teams in training at the Italian Grand Prix. HANS features a carbon fibre collar connected securely to the upper body, with straps attaching it to the helmet. HANS is intended to prevent drivers' heads from being thrown forward in an accident, a common ‘whiplash’ situation which could lead to an over-extension of the spinal column.
Drivers face theoretical deceleration stresses of up to 80 times the force of gravity in an accident. In such a situation, the weight of their head and helmet increases quickly from 7kg to as much as 560kg. HANS would help to absorb this strain, as well as prevent the driver’s head from hitting the steering wheel or the front edge of the cockpit.
The system was designed at the University of Michigan. Commissioned by the FIA and in co-operation with its inventor Dr. Robert Hubbard, Mercedes-Benz further developed the 1996 version of the head and neck support. In practice, HANS has initially proven successful in the US NASCAR, ChampCar racing series and in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM).
Formula One drivers have already had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with HANS in the 2002 season. BMW WilliamsF1 driver Ralf Schumacher praised the system on his team's internet site. "In general, I think all systems and measures that improve driver safety are a good idea. HANS is one of these, and I hope that those drivers who still have problems with the system will get over them relatively quickly."
In everyday driving there are also ways to improve protection of the head and neck area. Be honest: When was the last time you checked the position of the head restraints in your car? Many drivers set them as "headrests" much too low, thus negating their protective effect. Head restraints are an important safety factor, yet they are often neglected. Especially when a car is driven by different people, it’s unlikely that they will be re-set every time. Dr. Hartmuth Wolff, risk expert from the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) in Munich, notes another problem: "Car dealers often set the head restraints at the lowest position in order to make the vehicle’s interior appear larger. The sad fact is that they often stay there."
Only head restraints that are sufficiently high and close to the head can prevent whiplash in accidents. According to Dr Wolff, they should be positioned so that the upper edge is aligned with the top of the head. "This provides for the maximum protection.”
Whether during the Grand Prix or on your way to work everyday, it is good to know that “safety is on your back.”