article banner includes images of frontal head restraints from leading manufacturers Simpson HANS Stand21

Frontal Head Restraints: HPDE safety tips

Learn why frontal head restraints (FHR), often called HANS devices, are a crucial addition to HPDE safety. Proven to protect your neck from serious injury.

Frontal head restraints (FHR), such as HANS devices, are critical safety gear for High-Performance Driver Education (HPDE) days and on-track driving. While they are mandatory in organized racing, their usage in HPDE events is often a topic of debate. However, it’s important to emphasize that wearing a FHR is a critical safety system for all track enthusiasts, regardless of the event they’re participating in. In this article, we’re going to look at how a frontal head restraint provides protection for HPDE’rs, as well as what options are available on the market.

Brief history of the FHR - hans device

Image of dr. Hubbard inventor of hans device sitting in race car with a helmet and hans device in hand
Dr. Robert Hubbard Credit: Michigan State University

The HANS device was developed by Dr. Robert Hubbard in the early 1980s, an American scientist and biomechanical engineering professor at Michigan State University. Inspiration came after a conversation with his brother-in-law, accomplished American road-racer Jim Downing. It followed the tragic death of their mutual friend, Patrick Jacquemart, who died in a testing accident at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Jacquemart’s Renault 5 Turbo racer collided with a sandbank head-on, with surprisingly little damage to the car. However, the force of impact was enough to cause Jacquemart to die from a basilar skull fracture.

Drawing on his background as a biomechanical crash engineer, Hubbard developed the first prototype in 1985. In 1989, crash tests achieved a milestone by using crash sleds and race car seat belt harnesses on crash dummies. The results were impressive, with a remarkable 80% reduction in energy exerted on the head and neck.

How do Frontal Head restraints work?

The primary function of a frontal head restraint is to minimize the forces transferred to the neck during impacts/hard deceleration, by restricting the forward movement of the head. In reality, it really is as simple as that!

Sketch of two busts in helmets showing a hans device on one and not the other
Credit: Car and Driver

A FHR system works by using a raised collar and polyester-fabric tethers that secure the driver’s helmet (head). It utilizes the driver’s shoulder belts to firmly hold it in position, with the tethers then connecting the driver’s helmet to anchor points on the collar’s sides. In the event of a frontal impact the system ensures that the driver’s head moves with their torso. This, in turn, helps prevent excessive strain on the neck and skull bones.

Still not convinced, allow me to give you a real-world example of why you should wear one.

What options are there for Frontal Head Restraints / Hans Device for HPDE Days?

So, let’s discuss your options. At this time, there are primarily two directions you can go. It’s important to realize, that this is based on your car setup more than anything else. If you have a track dedicated car then you’re already using a FHR or HANS device. 

Firstly, I assume you’re still reading as you’re tracking a more street focused car. With this in mind, you should probably ask yourself the following:

  1. How serious am I about HPDE days?
    • The Hobbyist – Planning to do <5 Days a season
    • The Enthusiast –  going to do >5 Days a season
  2. Would I change the interior of my car to accommodate 5/6 point harnesses?
    • The Hobbyist – No, I need my back seats!
    • The Enthusiast – Yes, I’m doing that/planning on it

Secondly, you need to know that frontal head restraint systems come in two main variants: the traditional “Horse-shoe” devices worn around the neck, and the much more recent “Hybrid” systems worn as a body harness. These are two different systems and while the hybrid can be used with a standard 3-point seatbelt and more comprehensive 4/5/6-point harnesses, the horse-shoe design cannot be used with 3-point seatbelts.

Lastly, it’s important to note that whilst you can just go ahead and install harnesses in a street car that utilize the standard seatbelt buckle, you should take a look at this article first.

 

The Hobbyist

This is where most of us start, then we get hooked and it’s a slippery slope, but I digress!

Unfortunately, a traditional frontal head restraint system or HANS device won’t work with an unmodified street car. As per the above, it requires over the shoulder harnesses. Fortunately, however, Simpson Race Products have a hybrid solution that works with street cars. And, most importantly, using their hybrid product requires zero modifications to the car.

The product in question is the Simpson Hybrid S and, in their own words:

“Simpson’s Hybrid S model is currently the only Frontal Head Restraint proven effective for 3-point harnesses, and it is also FIA and SFI approved.”

I’ve been using a Simpson Hybrid S for the last four track seasons and, to be honest, I couldn’t be happier with it. The Hybrid S is a great device, particularly if you’re just getting into HPDE days. Starting out, my first track car only had standard 3-point seatbelts and given I wasn’t about to extensively modify the interior of my daily driver, the Hybrid S made perfect sense. 

I have since upgraded to a car with 6-point harnesses and am able to continue to use it and very comfortably, I might add, even in bucket seats. It’s also perfect for instructors who are typically moving between 5 to 7-point harnesses in race cars and student cars with traditional 3-point seatbelts over the course of a single HPDE day. 

The Enthusiast

Image of a scroth branded frontal head restraint for racing
Schroth FHR

If you’re serious about your track days and are planning /in the process of adding harnesses to your car, you have lots of horse-shoe style options. Honestly, if it’s going to be a few seasons before you have your car ready, go get a Simpson Hybrid S. In my opinion, is just not worth the risk of not wearing one.

Not only are the devices typically offered in two width options (medium and large) but they also vary in angle based on the car’s seating position. For most HPDE drivers, a 20-degree device is suitable, but a single-seater racing car may require a 30 or even 40 degree device.

So, if you’re car is nearly ready to go or ready to go and you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend checking out the websites of some of the leading companies in the field of race safety. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, frontal head restraints (FHR) play a vital role in protecting drivers during high-speed impacts or sudden deceleration. By securely connecting the driver’s head to the body, the FNR device limits excessive head movement and reduces the risk of severe neck and head injuries. The use of an FNR device is a crucial safety measure that enhances driver protection and promotes safer HPDE experiences on the track.

For these reasons, especially for HPDE days, it’s my opinion that you should always wear a FHR whenever you are on track. I honestly don’t believe it matters what ‘run group’ you’re in, if you have a head-on collision with a barrier it can be serious, even at low speeds! That’s to say, surprisingly, you really don’t need to be going that fast to seriously injure your neck.

To be honest, whether you go the traditional frontal head restraint route or opt for a hybrid solution, you are investing in your safety on track and that, my friends, is never a bad thing.

Drive safe!

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