Formula One HANS device inspires Renault’s "Sleep Safe" head restraints
By Mike Hanlon
November 15, 2005
November 16, 2005 Over the last decade, the chance of surviving a serious crash in the front seats of a car has risen dramatically. So much so, that 70% of adult deaths and injuries are now suffered by those seated in the rear and it's not just adults at risk as more often than not it's children that are traveling in the rear seat. Renault has unveiled several new initiatives to improve rear seat safety, including one inspired by its World Championship winning Formula One team.
Renault's Accidentology department, through a 50-year commitment to research and development of vehicle safety technology, has developed vehicles that make Renault the only car maker to offer best-in-class safety across its whole range, not just the bigger more expensive models. Eight cars from the New Clio up to Espace achieve the maximum five-star crash rating in the EuroNCAP tests and they do this by going beyond the targets others aim for. Part of this high level of safety is provided by components developed by Renault and the new "Sleep Safe" head restraint is the latest.
The FIA introduced the HANS device to help protect against the high forces a Formula One racing driver can endure in a high speed accident. The extra weight of the crash helmet puts immense strain on the neck of the driver and the HANS device provides additional support to the head and neck, reducing whiplash in a front or rear impact and cushioning the head in a side impact.
A child is not a scale model of an adult as the head is much larger at birth and grows more slowly, meaning that in an impact a child's head puts extra strain on the neck, similar to an F1 driver wearing a helmet. Over 30% of rear seat passengers involved in road accidents in Europe are children under the age of 10 and in popular family cars like the Renault Espace this is obviously much higher. One of the reasons why injuries on children are higher is that they do not fit into the current restraint systems as well as an adult - hence the various types of child seat and booster cushions.
One of the problems for 6-10 year old children is that they are too big for enclosed child seats yet do not reach the adult head restraint properly. Often children also fall asleep and slide out of the seatbelt meaning this vital piece of equipment can not do its job in an accident. Having watched the Renault F1 Team drivers Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella putting on their HANS devices before each race, a Renault safety engineer thought this would be the perfect thing to hold a young child upright and in their seatbelt should they fell asleep and also cushion the head in a side impact, reducing the chances of neck injury. The "sleep safe" head restraint was born and is part of the centre rear head restraint. The two sides of the head restraint flip down to hold the child's head, and therefore body, upright should they fall asleep.
Available first on Espace, the Sleep Safe head restraint is designed for 6-10 year old children and is available as an option for £50. It will become available on other Renault models soon.
Renault's two small cars, Modus and New Clio launched last month, provide unique safety features in the small car (B) sector which partly explain why Modus was the first small car ever to gain that coveted five-star EuroNCAP rating and how New Clio was able to join it at the top of the class with another five-star rating.
Seatbelt pre-tensioners take some of the slack out of the belt in the event of an accident, helping to pin the occupant back into the seat, but only Modus and Clio provide this feature for the rear seatbelts. New Clio also provides an undercushion structure to stop occupants "submarining" out under the seatbelt under the force of the accident. Again a feature found more often for front seat passengers but not those in the rear.