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Neck Safety 101: The Necessity of Head Restraints

Discover why a Frontal Head Restraint is more than just a recommendation—it's a must-have for anyone serious about HPDE and track driving. Learn the ins and outs of neck safety on the racetrack.

If you regularly attend High-Performance Driver Education (HPDE) events or regularly find yourself pushing the limits on a racetrack, you’ve likely thought: “Should I wear a Frontal Head Restraint (FHR)?” The short answer is a resounding yes, but let’s dig into the reasons why this piece of safety equipment is not just a recommendation but a necessity for anyone serious about tracking their car.

Frontal Head Restraints are designed to minimize the risk of neck injuries in the event of a high-speed collision or sudden deceleration. While helmets are often the first line of defense, they can’t provide complete protection against the forces that can cause severe neck strain or even spinal injuries. An FHR works in conjunction with your helmet to restrict forward head movement, thereby reducing the risk of such injuries.

In the world of motorsports, safety is paramount, and the same principles apply to HPDE events. Even if you consider yourself an experienced driver, the dynamics of a racetrack present unpredictable variables that can challenge even the most skilled behind the wheel. Investing in an FHR is not just about complying with safety guidelines; it’s about taking a proactive approach to protect yourself in a high-risk environment.

Before you gear up for your next track event, allow me to demonstrate why making a Frontal Head Restraint a top priority on your safety equipment list is a wise decision.

Frontal head restraint - image of a hand and neck support device. Shows two anchors (enough for one helmet), pads, and matching tether. Select standard button style (left) or quick click system with red pull string.
HANS – HANS III Head and Neck Restraint

So what are Frontal Head Restraints (FHRs)? Commonly known as a HANS (Head and Neck Support) device it functions as a crucial safety apparatus designed to protect you, the driver, from head and neck injuries during high-speed impacts or sudden deceleration. The device is worn over the shoulders, like a collar, and rests on the upper chest. The driver’s helmet is then placed on top of the device, with the HANS tethers attached to the helmet. The tethers are connected to the device using special clips or anchors. When seated in the car, the harness shoulder straps sit over the top of the HANS device on the shoulders and down the chest to essentially ‘lock’ the HANS device in place.

No Frontal Head Restraint vs. Frontal Head Restraint

Allow me to give you a very real world example of what can happen to your neck even at relatively low speeds.

There’s a bit to unpack from this video, but what really hits home immediately is the speed they are traveling at at the time of impact – or rather the lack thereof! I think it’s reasonable to assume that 5-10mph faster and that would be a broken neck. He’s lucky, though probably still suffering from neck pain to this day.

Use of Race Harness by Driver without FHR

Using a racing harness setup (6-point etc.) without using a frontal head restraint is an absolute no-no. Not sure about you, but I feel my neck every time I watch this. Ironically, he would have probably been better off using a standard 3-point harness as they are designed to ‘give a little’ on impact. 

Have harnesses in your daily driver that you track? Please don’t use them on the street! Agreed, they look pretty cool, but the risk you’re taking…it’s just not worth it IMO.

Looks like a Rally Car

The car seems pretty well kitted out, with lots of displays, timers and buttons 🙂 and I am sure the bucket/containment seats are race spec. However, for rally in particular, they would benefit from winged/halo race seats because in the event of a side on crash and/or roll, the HANS device doesn’t support lateral neck movement. That’s where the winged race seats come in and protect the side-to-side movement in a rollover.

Newton’s Second Law

What force is exerted on this rally driver’s neck upon impact?  To demonstrate, let’s use Newton’s second law of motion which states that force (F) is equal to mass (m) multiplied by acceleration (a): F = m * a.  

So, what speed do you think they are going at the point of impact? I’m going to guesstimate a speed of 20 mph, a stopping distance of approximately 2 ft, and a head + helmet weighing 13.5 lbs, which makes the force exerted on the rally driver’s neck about 450 Newtons. That doesn’t mean that much to most of us, so let’s put it into perspective.

450 Newtons of force is equivalent to a weight of about 100 lbs or seven times the weight of the head!

Some things to consider

Before you rush out and buy a frontal head restraint / HANS device or similar, here are a few points to take note of:

  • $$$$ They’re expensive ranging from $400 – $1500
  • They should be replaced every 5 years, after an accident or if there’s visible wear & tear
  • Don’t buy used ones unless you know and trust the person you’re buying from
  • Go get measured and fitted at an authorized supplier. They sell thousands and are extremely knowledgable
  • There are different types, with different angles, anchors and tethers (see previous bullet)
  • If you’re comfortable, know your size and plan to buy online, get direct from a manufacturer or authorized retailer. If price looks too good to be true it is…beware of fakes, they are out there

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to HPDE and tracking your car I’m certainly not suggesting you immediately go and buy a frontal head restraint for the odd track day you’ll do to see if you like the hobby. However, if you’re a regular to the track and don’t have a FHR / HANS device, this should be your next purchase. Yes it’s an expensive outlay, no it won’t give you any extra horsepower but it might just prevent serious injury or even save your life.

The way I look at it. I do about 14 track days a season. Over five years that’s 70 days. $1,100 for my Hybrid S / 70 = $16 a day. If you don’t need a Hybrid you’re looking at $6 – $8. If you’re interested in the differences between a Hybrid and Standard FHR, check out this article for further info.

So again, yes, yes you should wear a frontal head restraint.

Drive safe!

If you are new to HPDE and tracking your car, I’m certainly not suggesting you immediately go and buy a frontal head restraint for the odd track day you’ll do to see if you like the hobby. However, if you are a regular to the track and don’t have a FHR / HANS device, this should be your next purchase. Yes, it’s an expensive outlay, and no, it won’t give you any extra horsepower, but it might just prevent serious injury or even save your life.

The way I look at it. I do about 14 track days a season. Over five years that’s 70 days. $1,100 for my Hybrid S / 70 = $16 a day. If you don’t need a Hybrid you’re looking at $6 – $8. If you’re interested in the differences between a Hybrid and Standard FHR, check out this article for further info.

So again, yes, yes you should wear a frontal head restraint.

Drive safe!

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