MSU Research History: Neck Brace to Save Race Car Drivers
1987 – Professor of materials science and mechanics Robert Hubbard patents a safety device known as the Head and Neck Support device, or HANS, which he developed with race car driver Jim Downing – Hubbard’s brother-in-law.
The device is credited with saving the lives of countless race car drivers, and earned Hubbard a place in the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2014.
Hubbard and Downing recognized that racers were being killed because their torsos were restrained but their heads were not. Although unknown at the time, this has been the mechanism of basilar skull fractures, the most common cause of racers’ deaths.
With a research background in skull bone strength, head injury and crash dummy development, Hubbard conceived of the HANS device, which restrains the helmet and head relative to the shoulders and effectively reduces the head motions and neck tensions that injure racers. Hubbard and Downing were also instrumental in convincing a slow-to-adapt motor sports industry that the HANS was a valuable piece of equipment.
Between 1990 and 2014, more than 200,000 HANS devices were put into use by drivers.